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Assault survivors have waited too long

Every year, thousands of individuals who have been sexually assaulted take the step of reporting the crime to the police. They submit to an examination of their body and have evidence collected in a process that typically takes four to six hours. The evidence is saved in a “Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit” – a rape kit.

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. When tested, communities can identify serial perpetrators, take dangerous offenders off the streets, exonerate the innocent and prevent future crimes.

Yet, too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. Right now, there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. In 2016, the New Mexico State Auditor’s investigation into the backlog found 5,440 untested rape kits across the state. In Albuquerque alone, 3,948 untested kits were discovered.

There are many steps to rape-kit reform. The Albuquerque City Council has already passed R-16-140, which increases funding and resources for the city’s crime lab. We also strongly support R-16-143, the Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Testing Resolution, which is pending before the Council, and establishes timelines and practices for the city’s submission and testing of sexual assault evidence kits.

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Passage of these bills in Albuquerque are important first steps that lay the groundwork for the Legislature to finally address the issue statewide.

Justice for a survivor of sexual assault should not depend on the New Mexico zip code in which they live. To truly address the backlog of untested kits across the state, the New Mexico state Legislature must now follow with statewide reform. Ensuring a consistent and comprehensive handling of rape kits across state agencies is essential to the successful elimination of a backlog and to ensure it never happens again.

A growing number of states have passed laws requiring sexual assault kit audits or mandatory testing of rape kits. Several bills have been introduced this session in New Mexico that will help take dangerous offenders off the streets, make our communities safer, and bring a path to healing and justice to survivors.

Other states with laws in place, similar to Katie’s Law in New Mexico, that require a DNA cheek swab be taken from all those arrested for a felony, are experiencing tremendous success in matching these rape kits to offenders. Ohio, for example, is seeing match rates of more than 50 percent. Based on the experience of other states, New Mexico could see thousands of rapes solved by testing these untested rape kits.

This is not a time for complacency or further delay. We stand with every survivor who has taken the courageous step of reporting the crime to the police and endured an invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. Each untested kit represents a missed opportunity to bring justice and healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community.

With related legislation pending in both the state Legislature and before the Albuquerque City Council, our message is clear. Sexual assault survivors have already waited far too long. It’s time to help them find justice.

Help send a clear message to survivors that they – and their cases – matter. Commit to tell perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes.

Pass the pending legislation.

Jayann Sepich is the mother of Katie Sepich, who was raped and murdered in Las Cruces in 2003. She and her husband, Dave, are the founders of DNA Saves, which educates policy makers and the public about the value of forensic DNA.

Ilse Knecht is the Director of Policy & Advocacy for the New York City-based Joyful Heart Foundation, which works “toward a world free of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.”

 

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