By Bill Parry
The $168 billion 2018-2019 state budget approved and signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo early Saturday contained legislation, sponsored by Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria), ensuring sexual assault survivors have a greater opportunity to seek justice by preventing the premature destruction of sexual assault evidence kits, commonly referred to as forensic rape kits.
Simotas’ legislation is now law in New York state, where each rape kit must be preserved for 20 years so that evidence remains available for use in investigations and prosecutions.
Currently, if a victim chooses not to make an immediate police report, the hospital that collects the rape kit is only required to retain the evidence for 30 days before it can be discarded. This is often not enough time for a traumatized victim to make a decision about moving forward with a criminal complaint.
“Preserving untested rape kits preserves a victim’s right to move forward with a prosecution of the perpetrator,” Simotas said. “No sexual assault survivor should ever be told that a prosecution is not possible because a rape kit was disposed of prematurely.”
The new law requires that such rape kits be retained for at least 20 years from the date of collection at a centralized secure storage facility. This will include clothing, cotton swabs, slides and other relevant items, which will be identified with a code matching the survivor’s medical records.
Speaking at a news conference Friday, Gov. Cuomo, who made Simotas’ Rape Kit Preservation Bill a priority, said the longer time frame for storing the sexual assault evidence kits will help prosecute attackers in the future.
“We know that DNA is now the fingerprint for many crimes,” Cuomo said. “We haven’t been keeping rape kits long enough to really have a database that we can then go back to. Increasing it from 30 days, you never really had an opportunity to build up a database. Now you’ll have 20 years of data.”
The new law will also ensure that sexual assault survivors are not billed for the sexual assault forensic exam. Even if the survivor has private insurance, she or he can choose to have the New York State Office of Victim Services reimburse the hospital where the exam was conducted. The law will also create a tracking system so sexual assault survivors are notified where their kits are stored and when the 20-year storage period is about to expire.
“Compassion must always be paramount in the law enforcement response to sexual assault victims,” Simotas said. “Preserving rape kits is the right thing to do and it will help lock up dangerous criminals.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr