By Bill Parry
On the last day it was in session, the state Assembly passed a bill that would speed up the testing of rape kits and prevent future backlogs. The legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), mandates that rape kits are sent to a forensic laboratory for testing within 10 days and that their progress is tracked from police agencies to the lab.
“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,” Simotas said. “New York state needs this law if we want to have justice for victims, prosecution and punishment for the guilty and for innocent suspects to be set free.”
The state Senate passed a companion bill earlier, according to Simotas. The legislation solves the problem of untested rape kits wherever they may be sitting on shelves.
In 2003, New York City received $2.5 million from the federal government to test a backlog of 17,000 rape kits. Without the tracking and reporting requirements of the Simotas bill, however, there is no way to prevent future backlogs from developing.
“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,” said Natasha Alexenko, a rape survivor and founder of Natasha’s Justice Project,. “All rape victims in New York deserves this justice, and deserve the same minimum standard of care in ensuring their rape kit is tested. Justice matters. It matters to victims like me. It matters to the families of victims. It matters to the wrongfully accused and it matters to the people of New York.”
Meanwhile, the state Senate passed a bill co-sponsored by state Sen. Joseph Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach), that would require the state Education Department and the state Office of Mental Health to develop materials focusing on suicide prevention and signs of depression among school-aged children and to provide them with educators throughout the state.
“There is no question that early intervention and recognition of suicidal behavior is key to preventing these heart-breaking incidents among students,” Addabbo said. “We need to keep our eyes wide open, paying close attention to our children both at home and at school and working to better recognize the signs of impending tragedy.”
To underscore the importance of these efforts, Addabbo noted that suicide is the third leading cause of death among young people ages 15 to 24 in the United States.
“In addition, a study released by the National Center for Health Statistics in April showed that the overall U.S. suicide rate has surged to it highest levels in almost 30 years, affecting all age groups,” he said. “By teaching our educators to better recognize the signs of potential suicidal tendencies, and by helping our young people understand the gravity of this problem, I hope we will see fewer students giving up on life before they have had a chance to live it.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr