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WA Bill Would Reform Sexual Assault Kit Handling

Washington state still has an estimated backlog of more than 6,500 untested sexual assault kits. (Sgt. Rebecca Linder/defenseimagery.mil)
Washington state still has an estimated backlog of more than 6,500 untested sexual assault kits. (Sgt. Rebecca Linder/defenseimagery.mil)
January 13, 2020

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- As Washington state continues to test its backlog of sexual assault kits, lawmakers also are looking to reform how kits are managed.

A sexual assault kit is a collection of evidence gathered following a rape allegation.

One of the first hearings of the session, scheduled for Tuesday, will be on a rape kit reform bill.

A sponsor of the bill, Democratic Party Rep. Tina Orwall, says one key component is retaining the kits for 20 years and getting permission from the sexual assault survivor before destroying them.

She says it's important to preserve evidence for as long as possible.

"Trauma takes time and we want to make sure that they can come back a year, two years down the road if they decide to pursue charges -- or up to 20 -- and still have that critical evidence available," she states.

The bill also would require a statewide tracking system for kits, getting DNA from certain offenders at sentencing and making sure law enforcement collects all the evidence available, such as blood or clothing samples.

The hearing is scheduled for Tuesday at 3:30 p.m. in the House Public Safety Committee.

Orwall still remembers touring evidence rooms in 2015 and seeing stacks of white boxes -kits that were untested. She says it was heartbreaking, considering that each kit represented someone who had experienced trauma and by not testing, the victim's voice had gone unheard.

"To show support to survivors is fixing the system to ensure it never happens again," Orwall stresses. "And I hear a lot from survivors and these scars don't go away. They often last a lifetime. So, we hope these changes will begin to help survivors heal."

Orwall says the hearing could also address potential storage issues for law enforcement.

According to a state report last month, Washington has tested about 3,100 of its 9,700 total untested kits.

The state is receiving federal funding to continue its work on ending the rape kit backlog.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - WA