New bill will ensure victims are told of rape kit backlog test results
NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- It could soon be easier for victims of one of the most heinous crimes to get information about their cases. A new bill moving through the General Assembly this legislative session is the latest development in our "test the kits" investigation.
The bill, championed by Attorney General Mark Herring, focuses on a specific set of victims: they are survivors of sexual assault whose kits were never tested, victims whose kits are part of the backlog finally being sent to labs in some cases after decades of collecting dust.
For decades, many of these victims have been left in the dark. After what is arguably the worst moments of their lives, they agreed to a rape exam. It is an excruciating, invasive, hours-long process where they are poked and prodded so authorities can gather evidence from their bodies. They submit to this exam in the hopes of getting justice, in the hopes the evidence contains DNA, which could prove who violated them.
But then, as we've been telling you for 18 months, nothing happened. More than two-thousand rape kits were left sitting on shelves in police departments for decades.
Original Report: Untested Rape Kits
“From the very beginning, survivors have been the center of our focus,” Herring said in an exclusive interview Wednesday.
As part of our "Test the Kits" investigation, we've learned two federal grants will get that backlog tested. Now Herring wants to make sure once that work is done, the system doesn't violate these victims again.
“Every survivor has a right to have their kit tested in a timely manner and to learn the results and that's what this law would do,” he explained.
Senate Bill 1501 requires local law enforcement inform victims of the results of those tests.
“When a sexual assault happens the perpetrator takes power and choice away from the victim and giving them this information begins to restore that sense of control,” Herring told us.
This way, they'll know exactly what's going on in their search for justice.
“It can really help the victim onto a path of healing and recovery,” Herring described.
This might seem like common sense or something that is guaranteed as part of the process, but Herring believes it is important to solidify this step and make it law.
“This is a continuing effort to really turn the page in how we look at these cases and to move away from an older culture that was more about silence and a reluctance to pursue them,” he added.
As we've reported, some of these kits are decades old. So, the new bill says law enforcement must make a real effort to get in touch with these past victims, even if the contact information on file is out of date.