On the last day of its session, the Assembly passed legislation (A10067) sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) that mandates the timely processing of sexual offense evidence kits (rape kits) and ensures that rape kits are tracked from hospitals to police agencies and from police agencies to forensic laboratories. The Senate earlier passed a companion bill (S8117) sponsored by Senator Kemp Hannon.
"For the sake of sexual assault victims, who must undergo an immediate, intrusive and arduous exam for evidence collection, we have a duty to make sure rape kits are never neglected, " said Assemblywoman Simotas. "New York State needs this law if we want justice for victims, prosecution and punishment for the guilty and for innocent suspects to be set free. I want to commend Senator Hannon for being a leader on this important issue," Simotas added.
"As the Senate Health Committee Chair, getting a bill passed that protects rape victims was one of my main priorities. I'm proud of this legislature that we got it done. If these bills become law, sexual assault victims will never suffer the additional trauma of not having their rape kits tested," said Senator Kemp Hannon.
"In 1993, I was violently raped and robbed at gunpoint in New York City. The horror and trauma of that event is indescribable. But I was fortunate: medical examiners recognized that my body was a crime scene. My rape kit was eventually tested ten years later, and my attacker was identified and convicted. Assemblywoman Simotas and Senator Hannon are my heroes for recognizing that ALL rape victims in New York deserve this justice, and deserve the same minimum standard of care in ensuring their rape kit is tested," said New York resident Natasha Alexenko, a rape survivor and Founder of Natasha's Justice Project, www.natashasjusticeproject.org. "Justice matters. It matters to victims like me. It matters to the families of victims. It matters to the wrongfully accused. It matters to all the people of New York," Alexenko added.
The Simotas and Hannon bill mandates that when law enforcement agencies receive a rape kit, it must be sent to a forensic laboratory for testing within 10 days. Forensic laboratories must test the kits and develop Combined DNA Index system (CODIS) eligible profiles and report results back to the submitting police agency and local district attorney within 90 days.
In 2003, New York City received $2.5 million from the federal government to test a backlog of 17,000 rape kits. However, without the tracking and reporting requirements of the Simotas bill, there is no way to prevent future backlogs from developing.
The bill solves the problem of untested rape kits wherever they may be sitting on shelves. The legislation requires that rape kits, collected before the effective date of the new law, be sent to a forensic lab within 180 days and that results be produced within 120 days.
Forensic labs would be required to submit quarterly reports to the NYS Division of Criminal Justice Services, as would each law enforcement agency that submits kits for testing. The reports would reveal compliance or lack of compliance with deadlines and the existence of any untested kits.
The law also requires that DCJS establish a system to coordinate the transportation of sexual offense evidence to and from laboratories and that funding sufficient to test kits by made available.
Aravella Simotas is the New York State Assembly Member representing the 36th District, in Astoria, Queens. She took office in January 2011 and is the first Greek American woman elected to office in New York and the first woman elected to represent the 36th District.
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