Trump signs the SAFER Act of 2017, strengthening efforts to eliminate the nationwide rape kit backlog
Amid #metoo stories and Hollywood’s women coalescing around a fight against sexual assault and harassment in the workplace, there’s finally some good news: President Donald Trump has signed the SAFER (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting) Act of 2017. In doing so, Trump reauthorized the original SAFER Act of 2013, extending and strengthening efforts to eliminate the nationwide rape kit backlog.
After hearing stories of women having to travel long distances to receive the rape kit exams that are guaranteed to them under the Violence Against Women Act, we began to file the same request with the health departments in all 50 states asking for locations where sexual assault forensic examiners are available on staff or on-call. Like most of the other data surrounding sexual assault policies, what we’ve found so far varies widely, and there are large deserts - huge, mostly rural areas without easy access to a medical examiner
When DNA evidence can be destroyed at will by hospital officials, the lack of a statute of limitations can mean almost nothing. Giving survivors only 30 days to decide whether to press charges is an unfairly small window of time to process the traumatic event.
Recently released documents show that the backlog of untested rape kits in Alaska’s capitol city, Juneau, is staggering. Out of the 283 sexual assault evidence kits collected since 2000, 206 still remain untested, while the status of three remains “unknown” - disturbing news for a state with a rate of sexual violence nearly three times the national average.
Our request with Monroe, New York showed that, despite a new state law requiring all rape kits be tested within ten days, the police department currently has three kits that haven’t been sent to a lab for processing.