Washington to become first state to track rape kits

A bill to create a statewide tracking system for rape kits that allows law enforcement and victims to track the status and location of kits has passed the Legislature and is headed to the governor’s desk for his signature.

“This bill is about justice and transparency, and it’s a critical step in rape kit reform to support survivors of sexual assault,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, of her legislation that makes Washington state the first in the nation to put this kind of tracking process in place. “The system will be an important resource for law enforcement to ensure testing accountability of both old and new kits, and for victims to have peace of mind being able to verify that the investigations on their cases are moving along.”

House Bill 2530 requires the Washington State Patrol to create and operate a statewide Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System and authorizes the Department of Commerce to accept private donations to fund the testing of new rape kits, as well as training for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs).

Orwall acknowledged that getting this bill through the process was possible thanks to having worked closely with key lawmakers in both chambers and from both sides of the aisle.

“Victims of sexual assault can now be assured that everything that can be done to bring justice is being done. This bill represents the great work that comes from a bipartisan group of legislators coming together and doing what is right,” said Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center, who sponsored the Senate companion, SB 6484.

“With the passage of this bill, Washington will be a national leader in ensuring survivors of sexual assault and rape get their best chance at justice,” said co-sponsor of the Senate bill Sen. Pramila Jayapal, D-Seattle. “Having served on the task force last interim that helped develop this policy, we heard first-hand the traumatic experiences of these survivors. Not only do they have to go through the initial trauma, they then have to go through an invasive procedure to gather evidence for a rape kit – only to find out later nothing has come of it. This is unacceptable. I want to thank Rep. Orwall for her leadership on this issue and look forward to continuing to work together to support survivors in Washington.”

WSP may use a phased implementation process to launch the tracking system, but by June 1, 2018, local law enforcement agencies, prosecutors, hospitals, and the WSP must be fully participating in the system.

In addition to the rape kit tracking system, the Legislature also passed House Bill 2711, sponsored by Rep. Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, which will commission a study to determine the availability of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners in Washington, and make recommendations for improvements. According to McCabe, SANEs are a vital component to ensuring sexual assault survivors receive necessary care.

“Sexual assault survivors deserve safe environments and critical care where they feel respected and well-served,” said McCabe. “SANEs play an important role in providing care. We must continue seeking options to increase the number of SANEs available, especially in rural areas that have limited services.”

SANEs provide necessary examinations and follow-up appointments for survivors of sexual assault, and provide specialized skills helpful in prosecuting criminals. The study will be conducted by the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy.

Reps. Tina Orwall and Gina McCabe, and Sens. Pramila Jayapal and Ann Rivers are members of the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) Best Practices Task Force. These two bills constitute the first part of their work plan as they address the 6,000 untested kits, and work to develop a victim-centered approach to support survivors of sexual assault.