California is belatedly joining the effort to address rape kit backlogs with a bill that heads to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk this week.
The California Legislature approved AB 3118 — brought forward by San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu — on Monday that requires a one-time, statewide audit of all rape kits left to be counted. Though it doesn’t include a plan to test backlogged kits, advocates say inventory is a crucial first step to determining what’s needed to get them counted.
“Behind every single one of these kits is a survivor that has gone to a facility that has collected evidence from their body,” says Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation, which runs End the Backlog. “It’s invasive and it’s uncomfortable and they do it with the expectation that it will be used.”
For a state that prides itself on being ahead of the curve, California is behind other states like Iowa, Alaska and North Carolina in requiring a count. Through public records requests, End the Backlog estimates that more than 13,000 kits are sitting untested on the shelves of California law enforcement — but it still won’t have a complete number unless jurisdictions are mandated to have them.
San Francisco went through a public reckoning over its rape kit backlog in 2013, when it was discovered that 753 cases — within the statute of limitations — from the past 10 years never had their kits tested, the Examiner reported. In 2014, the backlog was cleared and police spokesperson David Stevenson says another one has not accumulated since then — which means that the bill is not expected to impact SFPD.
As of Tuesday, police have received 251 kits in 2018 and tested 241, including some kits from previous years. Of those tested, 20 kits took more than the required five days to submit to the lab from its collection date, according to Stevenson.
In 2017, police received 365 kits and completed 383, also including kits from previous years. Fifty-five of those took more than five days for lab submission.
Brown has yet to sign the bill that advocates call a public health measure. Testing kits not only moves a case forward toward criminal justice, but catches potential serial offenders.
“It’s not just about a box on a shelf,” Knecht says. “It’s about a person’s life and it’s about preventing future crimes.”