Rape Kit - Washington

Keeping a lookout for justice

WA State - 2016

Year two of rape kit reform was happening!  The Task Force was in full swing and bills were a flying.  Here is a quick rundown of those bills and the subsequent action that took place. 

House Bill 2530 (2SHB2530)

Boom!  Big bill filed in the WA State legislature and let us tell you, it was full of great victim centered reforms - until two of them got slashed.  Ahhh, politics.  Click here to read the bill in all its glorious legalese.  Or read on for a quick rundown.

Our hero Rep. Tina Orwall and her fellow Task Force member Rep Gina McCabe put together a doosy.  Here are the highlights as they stood originally and as amended:

  • Creation of a statewide tracking system for rape kits that will allow the proper officials AND victims to track the status and location of kits.  The Washington State Patrol will operate the system which was purchased through an outside vendor.
  • Introduced the creation of a fund at the Department of Commerce whereby private donations can be accepted and used toward the testing of shelved kits and the training of SANS nurses.
  • No longer in the bill: a grant system to local law enforcement agencies to assist with the investigation or re-investigation of cases associated with shelved kits, once those kits have been tested.  This section of the bill also addresses victim notification, use of victim advocates, and reporting guidelines.
  • No longer in the bill: Imposed a fee on sexually oriented businesses (also known as SOBs - does anyone else find this acronym funny?).  Monies collected would have gone into a fund where they would have been used to fund policies and programming for investigating sex crimes and supporting trafficking and sex crime victims in WA State.

Whoa!  We were downright giddy over here.  But the removal of the grant system was a huge disappointment.  With its demise we had no plan for testing old kits.  Yup, that's right, zero plan in place for finding justice for survivors.  Until $3.8 million was provided in the budget specifically for rape kit reform!  Hello.  We were back on track and here is how the money shook out:

  • $2.5 million to begin testing the 6,000 shelved kits
  • $871,000 in FY17 and $1.7 million in the 2017-19 biennium to implement the tracking system
  • $437,000 provided for the Dept of Commerce to allocate grants for SANS services and training
  • $76,000 to for the Office of Crime Victims Advocacy to study the availability of SANS examiners in the state (read bill 2711 details below).

House Bill 2711 (SHB2711)

A Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner is one of the most important people with which a rape victim will come in contact.  They are specially trained to administer a rape kit (which can take 4-6 hours) as well as how to handle a traumatized rape victim during that process.  Without them, you have a doctor with an instruction sheet.  As it turns out, WA State has a lot of the latter and that is a sucky situation (click here to see Patty Murray getting mad about it). 

SHB2711 was a tidy little bill that proposed a study be conducted to see just how few SANS nurses we have in WA State and what needs to be done to fix that problem.  Click here to read the bill.  This bill doesn't offer any solutions (we already know we have a problem, people) but it's a step in the right direction.

House Bill 2873 (SHB2873)

This poor bill had no chance due to some politics down in Olympia.  Read on for more details.

Statute of Limitations (SOL) has become a hot topic since shelved rape kits were discovered.  In fact, those kits allowed a discussion to be had, and heard, on how research shows victims of sexual violence need time to grasp a hold of and heal from the trauma that they have suffered.  And although gathering of evidence from that crime can sometimes have a time frame to it, healing of a victim does not.  These things cannot be fit neatly into a time frame that is set by the authorities.  So when you discover that WA State has some of the most punitive SOLs for victims of sexual assault on the books, you set about changing that.  As it stands right now, if you report your crime within one year of its occurrence, you have 10 years to prosecute it.  If you don't report in one year, you only have 3.  Now we are not beyond giving people the benefit of the doubt, so keep that in mind when we say, we can see how this structure may have been put in place to encourage victims to come forth early, when the evidence needed to prosecute the case was more easily investigated.  However, the law as it stands forces a victim to come forth when perhaps she is not ready to deal with the trauma of her assault.  Totally not a victim centered approach.  A victim shouldn't be penalized for needing time to heal.  A sexual assault is no less important if you report it within one year or not.  It just isn't.  

SHB2873 recognized just that fact.  Hug an advocate next time you see them for tirelessly educating people on this topic.  This bill aimed to eliminate the SOL for the following felony sex offenses: Child Molestation in the first and second degrees; Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor; Custodial Sexual Misconduct in the first degree; Incest in the first and second degrees; Promoting Commercial Sexual Abuse of a Minor; Rape in the first and second degrees; Rape of a child in the first and second degrees; and Sexual Exploitation of a Minor.

SHB2873 passed out of the Public Safety committee with an unanimous vote on February 5, 2016 and then was assigned to the General Government and Information Technology Committee.

Wait . . . The what? 

This was a strange move.  The word on the street is it was sent here to die due to some politicking - gross and shame on you, politicians.  This topic will be one to watch in 2017.  

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Onward, crusaders of justice!  We will continue to keep you updated as things progress in this state.  In the meantime, may you continue to stay involved and engaged.