Colorado Bill Would Give Rape, Sexual Assault Survivors Evidence Updates

This Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City.

This Feb. 8, 2017, file photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Associated Press

 

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The legislation, if passed, would allow victims to receive updates on the status of their test kits when the results are received, among other things.

Survivors of rape and sexual assault could receive updates on the status of their evidence collection kits under a proposal making its way through the Colorado General Assembly.

Per state policy, rape kits in Colorado—a collection of physical and forensic evidence collected from a survivor’s body during a thorough examination after a sexual assault—are submitted for testing only with permission from the victim. The results of those tests, including whether DNA samples were found or if those samples identified a suspect, are sent to the investigating law enforcement agency, but there’s no formal requirement that detectives keep victims apprised of that progress, said Lisa Ingarfield, project director of the Colorado Forensic Compliance Evaluation Project.

“What I’ve found in my research is that this action is done by some detectives at some police department and not at others, leaving many survivors having to chase down their results,” Ingarfield said last week in a hearing before the Colorado House Judiciary Committee. “This is a burden they should not have to bear.”

The bill, approved unanimously by the committee, would give survivors the option to receive updates on the status of their test kits, including when: the evidence is submitted for testing; when the test results are received; if the kit contained a DNA sample; and whether that DNA sample matched a profile in a state or federal database. 

In addition, victims would be alerted at least 60 days before their evidence is scheduled to be destroyed, would have the right to object to that destruction, and would be notified if their case was closed or reopened.

The bill would also require that law enforcement agencies store medical evidence until the crime’s statute of limitations expires, and for “an additional 10 years if the victim objects to its destruction.” Currently, Colorado requires only that the evidence be stored for a minimum of two years. That provision is particularly important for victims who may decide to take legal action years after the crime, said Rep. Matt Soper, a Republican and the bill’s co-sponsor.

“This would become very valuable…if you’re wanting to bring a civil case in the future,” he said. “You, as a victim, may not be able to really talk about it, but the ability to have the evidence preserved a little while longer means that at least there would be some hard evidence out there.”

The proposal has no specific budgetary impact, though it might “minimally increase state revenue and expenditures on an ongoing basis” due mostly to the increased storage and notification requirements, according to a fiscal analysis

Twenty-four states and the District of Columbia allow victims to know the status of their rape kits, and a simiar measure is under consideration in Tennessee. Advocates say that policy empowers victims by presenting them with options, which allows them to regain a sense of control that’s often stripped away after a sexual assault.

“For survivors to gain a sense of control back, and lessen the feeling of powerlessness, it's important for them to have choices and be informed about their case, options and next steps in their life,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation, which works on sexual assault issues. 

The bill passed its second House reading on Monday and is awaiting scheduling for a third and final vote in that chamber. If signed into law, the policy would take effect immediately.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a staff correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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