The Ohio house passed a bill Wednesday meant to completely clear a backlog of untested rape kits in law enforcement offices across the state. After the unanimous passage of SB 316, the bill now heads to Gov. John Kasich’s desk for a signature.
After being collected following a sexual assault, many rape kits across the country never make it out of law enforcement offices, going untested and creating a backlog. In 2009, the Cleveland Police Department started documenting the rape kits backlogged; it has spent years cataloging the kits.
The department by 2011 had identified several thousand rape kits that had never been tested, at which point Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine announced a sexual assault kit testing initiative requiring law enforcement agencies submit untested kits to the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation for processing, at no cost to the department.
In an op-ed for the Washington Post, DeWine, along with Cuyahoga County prosecutor Timothy J. McGinty, called the program a great success.
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The Ohio officials said that more than 4,100 rape kits had been tested since July, with 1,474 matching records in the national DNA database. More than 135 people had been indicted thanks to the rape kit initiative, including 37 John Does.
SB 316 expands on DeWine’s initiative by both tackling the remaining backlog and creating a plan for future kits. The law will require law enforcement agencies to forward the remaining untested rape kits to the state within one year.
The state’s Bureau of Criminal Investigation would then be required to put the test into a national database, according to Cleveland.com.
Ohio’s law enforcement agencies will have up to 30 days to submit new rape kits as they come in.
DeWin’e Democratic challenger, David Pepper, this year leveled criticisms of how the Republican attorney general had handled the rape kit backlog during his time in office, calling nine consecutive months of increases in the backlog a “glaring management failure.”
DeWine eventually defeated Pepper in November’s election.
“Next year we hope to see a bill introduced to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape, so that when 20-plus year old kits are tested and perpetrators are identified, that cases can be prosecuted after the current 20 year statute,” Katie Hanna, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, told Cleveland.com. “We owe that to survivors and to our communities.”
The nationwide rape kit backlog has received legislative attention in recent years, though action toward ending the backlog has in large part been left up to states.
Though Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, a bill meant to support state and local initiatives to reduce backlogs, the act has gaps that have proven significant in preventing efficient testing. And in September, a federal bill to fund rape kit testing fell victim to Congressional budget squabbles.
But states have picked up the slack. In mid-November, for example, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office announced that it had committed up to $35 million to fund the clearance of rape kit backlogs across the country, a project done in partnership with the Joyful Heart Foundation’s End the Backlog program.