Orwall bill aimed at ending backlog of untested rape kits passes Legislature

OLYMPIA – In Washington, over 10,000 untested sexual assault kits (SAKs) currently sit in police evidence, but that may soon change with legislation passed in Olympia on Thursday.

Sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, House Bill 1166 establishes a Survivor Bill of Rights, requires law enforcement to undergo specialized trauma informed training and prohibits destruction of rape kits – some of which have sat untested for decades.

“Survivors have really led the way on this work,” said Orwall. “In passing this bill, the Legislature is finally telling survivors, ‘We hear you, we believe you, and we are working to fix this systemic failure,’” said Orwall.

This is not the first time Orwall stood with survivors of sexual assault.

Under her leadership, the Legislature mandated testing of all current and backlogged rape kits and established the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Legislative Task Force in 2015. In 2016, Washington became the first state in the nation to create an online statewide tracking system for survivors to check testing status of a kit.

“For decades, thousands of sexual assault survivors have been ignored while the physical evidence we provided languished on shelves,” said Leah Griffin, who has been the lead survivor voice on the SAFE Task Force. “It’s clear Washington now recognizes that failure, and takes an important step to ensure survivors’ voices are heard, our trauma is acknowledged, and our cases will be investigated in a thorough and timely manner.”

“I appreciate Rep. Orwall’s diligent and tireless work on the goal to eliminate the sexual assault kit backlog,” said Washington State Patrol Chief John R. Batiste. “Her partnership with the Washington State Patrol has made a significant difference to the survivors of sexual assaults and to the safety of all citizens of Washington. For that I am eternally grateful.”

“Sexual assault is a devastating crime,” Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. “It takes courage for survivors to come forward with their story. They deserve the assurance that their sexual assault kit will be tested. I want to thank Rep. Orwall for championing this important legislation. I’m looking forward to leading the SAFE Advisory Group and continuing to work with Rep. Orwall and the Washington State Patrol to end the sexual assault kit backlog.”

“For too long, sexual assault survivors have waited for justice while thousands of sexual assault kits have collected dust on the back shelves of law enforcement storage facilities across Washington. Justice delayed is justice denied,” said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, who co-chairs the SAFE Task Force with Orwall. “I greatly appreciate this bipartisan effort led by Representative Orwall to get these kits tested and finally bring the perpetrators to justice.”

House Bill 1166 now awaits a signature by Gov. Inslee.

Implementation of House Bill 1166 is dependent on appropriation. Final budget negotiations between the House and Senate will determine funding for a high-throughput testing lab based out of Vancouver, which could clear the backlog in two years and all newly submitted kits in 45 days. Currently, testing takes between 12-18 months.

The legislative session is scheduled to adjourn on April 28.