OLYMPIA – Yesterday, the House Public Safety Committee considered two measures that are part of a package of bills proposed by members of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Best Practices Task Force. The hearing is available on TVW here. The task force, which was created in 2015 in conjunction with a new law requiring testing of all sexual assault kits, is responsible for reviewing best practice models for managing all aspects of sexual assault examinations and reducing the number of untested sexual assault kits. In 2016, task force recommendations led to Washington becoming the first state to implement a statewide rape-kit tracking system. The SAFE task force recently submitted a set of additional recommendations.
HB 1109 authorizes the Attorney General to support local law enforcement and prosecutors in cold cases involving sexual assault and includes grants to help address the rape kit backlog. It prioritizes cold-case teams involving victim advocates and conducting victim-centered, trauma informed investigations. The bill also extends specialized, intensive training to all investigators rather than only to those of sexual abuse toward children. A fee on patrons of live adult entertainment establishments will be used to fund this legislation.
“Testing kits, as well as investigating and prosecuting cold cases are critical next steps to seek justice for survivors and prosecute perpetrators of these offenses,” said the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines), who has been working on bringing justice to survivors of sexual violence over the past two years, successfully passing HB 1068 in 2015 to test all rape kits, and HB 2530 last year to create a rape kit tracking system. “My bill gives law enforcement the training and tools they need to work in a focused sexual assault victim approach.”
Another bill in this package, HB 1155, eliminates the statutes of limitations for certain felony sex offenses, including rape, child molestation and sexual exploitation of minors. According to 2012 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, nearly one in five women and one in seventy-one men report experiencing rape during their lives. Rep. Dan Griffey (R-Allyn), the bill’s sponsor, hopes that removing the current time limit of no more than 10 years will empower more survivors to come forward with their stories and seek justice.
“There are many survivors who wait so long to speak up about their abuse, and many never do,” said Griffey. “Survivors deal with the pain on a regular basis. Why should the monsters who commit these crimes ever feel free from prosecution?”
Other bills in the package aimed at providing justice and support to survivors of sexual assault include a survivors’ bill of rights and sexual assault preparedness. These measures will be introduced in the coming days.
Rep. Gina McCabe (R-Goldendale), co-chair the SAFE task force, will seek legislation to follow up on HB 2711, which passed in 2016 and commissioned a study to determine the number of sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE) in Washington state and make recommendations to the SAFE task force. SANEs provide necessary examinations and follow-up appointments for survivors of sexual assault and provide specialized skills helpful in prosecuting criminals.
“SANEs are critical in providing much-needed services and care to victims, especially in regions like mine where there’s a shortage of available nurses,” said McCabe, who represents rural communities throughout the 14th Legislative District. “It’s clear we need community preparedness measures in place so when these tragedies occur, people are equipped to respond.”
The Washington Legislature has consistently passed common sense legislation to protect the rights of sexual assault survivors. With these new measures, Washington state is leading the nation in establishing resources to protect survivors of rape.
“This suite of legislation should reassure victims and survivors of sexual assault that the Legislature is continuing to be proactive and vigilant on their behalf. There is no question that Republicans and Democrats are committed to working together to press forward this session, with Representative Orwall pulling together the pieces of the package that will come before the committee tomorrow,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.