Governor signs Orwall bill to expand victim-centered, trauma-informed training for sexual assault investigations, adding requirement for prosecutors

OLYMPIA – This afternoon, Governor Jay Inslee signed HB 1028, a bill to promote victim-centered, trauma-informed practices in the legal system. Sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, the bill is based on the work of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Best Practices Advisory Group (SAFE Advisory Group), which was initially established in 2019 within the Attorney General’s Office to reduce the number of untested Sexual Assault Kits (SAKs) and review best practice models for sexual assault investigations.

HB 1028 will, for the first time, require prosecutors responsible for prosecuting sexual assaults to receive victim-centered, trauma-informed training. The bill also reestablishes the SAFE Advisory Group, expands its membership, and shifts its focus to increasing critical sexual assault nurse examiner services. Additionally, it expands the statute of limitations for sexual assaults from two to four years from the date the identity of the suspect is conclusively established by DNA testing or photograph. Trauma-informed, victim-centered training requirements for police are expanded to included gender-based violence.

“The majority of sexual assault cases are never reported and, historically, most are never even referred for prosecution,” said Orwall. “When I started this work, Washington had a backlog of over 10,000 untested Sexual Assault Kits. For the past decade, I have been working closely with sexual assault survivors, law enforcement, and the Criminal Justice Training Commission to change the way our criminal justice system handles sexual assault. Through the work of the SAFE Advisory Group, we are committed to building a system for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault that prioritizes the victim and provides survivors a path to justice.”

Prosecutors who prosecute sexual assault cases will now be required to take the Criminal Justice Training Commission’s (CJTC) specialized victim-centered, trauma-informed training for officers who investigate sexual assault. Both the training for officers who do and do not regularly investigate sexual assault cases is expanded to include training on gender-based violence. All officers must complete trauma-informed training every three years. Specialized training is also expanded to investigators of gender-based violence cases and commanding officers overseeing investigations of sexual assault and gender-based violence. CJTC is directed to administer a grant program for a statewide sexual assault resource prosecutor to provide more intensive training for prosecutors who prosecute sexual assault.

“By implementing legislation that includes educating prosecutors and others in providing trauma-informed responses, our State is sending a strong message to survivors of sexual assault– we hear you. We are optimistic that these changes will increase the likelihood of offender accountability with an ultimate goal of prevention,” said Monica Alexander, Executive Director of the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission.

The bill makes a number of changes to codify victims’ rights and create a system where survivors are believed and supported. A victim’s social media account which depicts sexual content, history, activity, or communications is now inadmissible in a prosecution for sexual assault and cannot be considered unless it is related to the offense. This will prevent social media from being used to attack a victim’s credibility. The procedures for collecting biological samples from those convicted of crimes that are required to give a sample are strengthened. The collection of biological samples is vital for catching and prosecuting serial rapists. The statute of limitation for prosecuting sexual assault is expanded from two to four years after a suspect is conclusively identified by DNA or a photograph. This will ensure that cases that have been made during over the past several years can be prosecuted despite a COVID induced backlog in our court system.  The bill clarifies that the statutory rights of a crime victim, survivor, or witness apply to any adult or juvenile criminal proceeding as well as sexually violent predator commitment proceedings. The Uniform Health Care Information Act is amended to remove barriers to prosecution related to information consent.

“This bill is yet another critical step to ensure safety in our communities by expanding training, DNA collection, continuing the important work of the SAFE Advisory Group, and working together to make sure we identify, prosecute and get serial rapists out of our communities so they can no longer hurt people. I am honored to co-sponsor this legislation and grateful to team up with Representative Orwall as we seek justice for victims and a safer Washington,” said Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, ranking member of the House Community Safety, Justice, & Reentry Committee and lead co-sponsor of HB 1028.

HB 1028 passed the House unanimously on March 6th and the Senate unanimously on April 11th. It was signed by Governor Inslee on May 1st.