Ensuring rape kit backlog never returns is top-priority for KASAP in upcoming legislative session

12/17/2015 10:25 PM

As result of an audit initiated by the state Senate and carried out by Auditor Adam Edelen, lawmakers learned of 3,090 untested rape kits in the state of Kentucky; in the upcoming session the General Assembly will consider a series of reforms to prevent the backlog from occurring again.

In September, auditors found “breakdowns at every step of the process” which led to the backlog of untested rape kits in Kentucky. The problem, in part, stems from limited resources, state budget cuts and recruitment and retention issues which contributed to long turnaround times.

Additional funding for the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory will be key for the state to be more efficient in processing rape kits, as well as other cases dealing with DNA evidence, including murder and burglary.

Eileen Recktenwald, the Executive Director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, or KASAP, will ensure that her organization keeps pressure on lawmakers in the upcoming legislative session.

“We would really like this bill to pass with recommendations that are in the audit report that Adam Edelen did — it had recommendations from advocates from all over the state in it,” Recktenwald said.

Edelen’s office held 14 stakeholder meetings throughout the state in an effort to reach a consensus on the reforms need to improve outcomes for sexual assault victims, and bring swift justice.

The bill is currently being drafted, and will include among the requests an appropriation of $5 million dollars from the state legislature for the first year in the next legislative session, and $2 million a year in recurring costs.

The money would provide for increased personnel, training, equipment and new space to outfit a complete DNA lab so they can turn information in a more timely matter.

“That was why the backlog existed, because they didn’t have the funding to be able to make those kits a priority, and that’s our issue,” Recktenwald said.

A grant has been secured by the Kentucky State Police to clear the current 3,090 sexual assault kit back log, but it will not supply the additional funds to prevent the problem from appearing once again.

The audit recommendations include a SART or community sexual assault response team to review adult cases going through the system to ensure victims have a team guiding them though the legal process.

In addition to the complete series of reforms recommended to ensure rape kits are tested in a timely fashion, KASAP is seeking a change in statute to extend the time frame a victim can bring a civil case.

KASAP is advocating for additional legislation in a stand-alone bill to extend the statue of limitations for victims of rape to bring a civil case.

Current statute is set at one-year, and stipulates that a criminal case has to be completed first, which leaves many victims who face long journeys through the criminal system without recourse.

Recktenwald said KASAP is seeking that the limitations be extended to five years.

KASAP, and others, are also looking into additional tweaks to the law to help further protect victims of human trafficking by changing the strict liability statute taking away ignorance of age as a defense. (8:00 in the interview below)


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