The Senate Appropriations Committee Friday passed a bill authored by Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) and sponsored by Alameda District Attorney Nancy O’Malley that would help reduce the number of untested sexual assault evidence kits throughout California. AB 41 will for first time require law enforcement agencies to report to the California Department of Justice annual data on sexual assault evidence kit collection and testing, providing greater transparency for survivors, policy makers and the criminal justice system.
“Survivors of sexual assault deserve to know what happened to the sexual assault evidence kits they submitted,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “To get at the heart of the backlog problem we need to know how many kits are collected each year, and if they’re not analyzed, we need to know why. This data will help shed some light on improvements that law enforcement needs to make and whether or not they need more resources to get the kits tested. I appreciate the support of my Senate colleagues from both parties.”
“The neglect of sexual assault kits with no explanation of why they were not analyzed simply adds to the trauma endured by survivors seeking justice,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley. “With just a few extra keystrokes to log into SAFE-T, law enforcement has the ability to improve prosecution and provide victims of sexual assault who reported a crime with information about their case that they deserve to know.”
The bill comes amidst the national uproar around the mismanagement of sexual assault evidence kits and what’s known as the “rape kit backlog.” Some jurisdictions have worked to decrease their backlogs to varying degrees, but there is currently no comprehensive data available in California about the number of sexual assault evidence kits that local law enforcement agencies collect annually or how many of those kits are analyzed. No comprehensive data exists about the reasons some sexual assault evidence kits are not analyzed.
A 2014 report by the California State Auditor revealed that each year these kits go unanalyzed by DNA laboratories for a variety of reasons. The scope of the problem, however, cannot be properly estimated due to a lack of effective tracking at the local level. To address these issues, the State Auditor recommended that agencies track each sexual assault evidence kit they collect and report to the California Department of Justice (DOJ) the number of kits analyzed and why some are not.
The value of DNA evidence in the investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes makes these evidence kits critical for law enforcement. Even in instances where the identity of assailants is known, forensic analysis often helps identify repeat offenders.
AB 41 will direct law enforcement agencies to track and report each sexual assault kit with the Department of Justice through their Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking system (SAFE-T). This database allows local agencies to log and provide status updates for each kit they collect. With documented reasons for the decisions, agencies would be able to clearly demonstrate to victims, policy makers, and other interested parties why they did not request analyses of each kit.
Assemblymembers Dante Acosta (R – Santa Clarita), Catharine Baker (R – Dublin), Marc Berman (D – Palo Alto), Cristina Garcia (D – Bell Gardens), Todd Gloria (D – San Diego) Tom Lackey (R – Palmdale), Brian Maienschein (R – San Diego), Chad Mayes (R – Yucca Valley), Marie Waldron (R – Escondido), and Senators Joel Anderson (R – Alpine), Toni Atkins (D – San Diego), Anthony Cannella (R – Ceres), Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties), Hannah-Beth Jackson (D – Santa Barbara), Nancy Skinner (D – Oakland), Scott Wiener (D – San Francisco) are co-authors of the bill.
AB 41 now heads to the Senate Floor.