On Monday, by a vote of 82-15, the House of Representative passed House Bill 1068, requiring law enforcement agencies to submit all sexual assault examination kits to the Washington state patrol crime laboratory for testing. The bill also creates a workgroup to study the issue of untested kits and review best practices for how to respond to victims of sexual assault.
“This is a bill about justice for all and about protecting women and children,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, the bill’s prime sponsor. “Victims endure horrific trauma when they are sexually assaulted and going through the evidence collection process is also traumatic. This bill ensures their voices are heard and their ordeal, as well as their willingness to collaborate with law enforcement, are validated by ensuring the rape kits are tested.”
Orwall began working on a bill after touring evidence rooms over last year’s summer, learning about rape kits and the fact that many of them were not tested. When a KING 5 investigation report last November revealed that only 365 of the 1,641 rape kits booked into evidence by the Seattle Police Department (SPD) were actually tested, Orwall saw more grounds to continue drafting legislation addressing the issue.
In January, SPD announced it will test all rape kits not only going forward, but also the 1,276 untested kits in its backlog of ten years.
“I commend the Seattle Police Department for taking the initiative, but I truly feel this should be the norm across the state,” Orwall said. “This bill is about justice. What we’re learning from other states, such as Ohio, Texas and Michigan is that by testing all kits they see patterns of serial rapists. In Ohio alone they’ve arrested 229 serial rapists thanks to testing every kit.”
When a suspect’s DNA is the result of testing a rape kit, it is entered into the Combined DNA Index System FBI database and, if a match is found, it can help in identifying a serial rapist. Orwall said that’s the main reason for her legislation, since testing all kits will result in linking the cases to the offenders, which will help in getting them behind bars.
“We know these serial criminals often commit 7 to 11 rapes before they are actually arrested and put in prison, so we want to get them off the street sooner,” Orwall added.
House Bill 1068 now heads to the Senate for further consideration.