Law to address backlog of untested rape kits

A bill attempting to reduce the backlog of untested sexual assault kits will go into effect at the end of December.

Act 164 of 2018 establishes a hotline for health care providers to call if a rape kit is not picked up within 72 hours and creates a commission to review funding needs and communications.

Sen. Wayne Langerholc Jr., R-35, the bill’s sponsor, said the new law aims to better protect Pennsylvania communities and assist law enforcement in getting more offenders off the streets. He described the backlog of untested kits as a nationwide problem that serves as “a barrier to justice for far too many victims.”

“It’s unacceptable,” he said of the backlog, stating he wanted to do whatever he could as part of the Legislature to address it.

The senator said it was number of thousands of untested rape kits that caught his attention.

A 2017 Department of Health report shows a total of 3,217 untested sexual assault kits as of September 2015. That year, 1,908 kits had been awaiting testing for 12 months or more, according to the report. The Health Department also reported 1,214 had awaited testing for a year or more in 2016.

Although there is a backlog, Pennsylvania State Police spokesman Ryan Tarkowski commented on the reducing number of untested kits.

He described Langerholc’s bill as instrumental in the collection of sexual assault evidence.

Tarkowski also commented on how increased communication between entities is helping the commonwealth to make strides in reducing the backlog.

State Rep. John McGinnis, R-Altoona, noted that the bill passed unanimously, indicative of its usefulness.

“The thrust of this legislation is to bring attention to the issue,” McGinnis said of the backlog. “Some of these rape kits are not picked up in a timely fashion. That’s just not a good thing. When a crime is as serious as rape, you need to get the evidence up the chain as quickly as possible.”

Ashley Gay Vocco, victim services program director for Family Services Inc., said, “The backlog of untested rape kits continues to let perpetrators of sexual violence free on our streets, possibly assaulting new victims while the evidence against them sits untested.”

She thanked the state Legislature and Gov. Tom Wolf, stating they are working to protect local communities and bring justice by enabling law enforcement to more quickly identify and arrest perpetrators.

The new law supplements the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act, a 2015 law mandating a more comprehensive evidentiary process in sexual assault cases.

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