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WA Continues Improving Response to Sexual Assault

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Washington state expects to clear its backlog of sexual assault kits by mid-2022. (motortion/Adobe Stock)
Washington state expects to clear its backlog of sexual assault kits by mid-2022. (motortion/Adobe Stock)
 By Eric Tegethoff - Producer, Contact
April 26, 2021

OLYMPIA, Wash. -- Washington state lawmakers are continuing their work from past sessions supporting survivors of sexual assault.

House Bill 1109, which has been delivered to the governor's desk, contains a number of measures to improve investigations into these crimes and track the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits.

Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, said the bill requires law enforcement to provide status updates for kits, which is especially important if there is a DNA match in the FBI's tracking system.

Orwall stressed serial offenders are responsible for many assaults.

"So it's really important not only that we're testing, but we're really following up to identify some very dangerous offenders that have been in our community for some time," Orwall explained.

Reforms in sex crimes law are a bipartisan effort in the Evergreen State. Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, has been Orwall's partner on the effort over the past few sessions. Orwall pointed out testing of the backlog of sexual assault kits should be complete by mid-2022.

April is Sexual Assault Prevention Month.

Orwall added the bill will also review officers' interactions with survivors. The reviews will help the state improve sexual assault training for officers.

Orwall contended the training needs tweaking. For instance, helping officers with their wording when they speak to survivors is important. She noted one charged word is "alleged."

"That is a word that's often used but also can make maybe a survivor feel like they're not believed, or they're being questioned and so it could be something as simple as a word," Orwall observed.

The bill also helps survivors navigate the legal system with help from advocates. But Orwall emphasized the state's work isn't over, and hopes to build on these reforms next session.

"I do think a next step is to apologize to survivors after all the sexual assaults have been tested, let them know that the system's been fixed and where they can get the resources they need," Orwall urged.

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