Senator Leyva: Rape Survivors Must Be Able to Track Their Rape Kits

SB 215 Empowers Survivors and Strengthens Public Safety

Wednesday, January 13, 2021

SACRAMENTO – Earlier today, Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) introduced legislation requiring the addition of a new online victim portal to California’s existing rape kit tracking system to allow survivors of sexual assault to anonymously and electronically track and receive updates regarding the status, location and information regarding their rape kit.

“SB 215 empowers rape survivors by making sure that they know where their kit is in the process,” Senator Leyva said. “We have all heard the countless stories of survivors finding out years after their rape kit was collected that the kit itself was never processed and actually sat on a shelf in a lab somewhere for years gathering dust.  After having been raped and then undergoing an invasive rape kit exam, a survivor should certainly be able to track the status of the rape kit anonymously and whenever they would like.  In late 2019, the Governor signed my SB 22, which now requires the prompt testing of rape kits. SB 215 is the logical next step so that rape survivors can remain informed—and we can continue to ensure justice by holding rapists accountable for their crimes.”

Jointly sponsored by the Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project, SB 215 would add a victim portal to California’s existing rape kit tracking system—the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database—in order to ensure an anonymous and straightforward option for victims to learn important timely information of their rape kits.  California law currently states that law enforcement and forensic laboratories are required to use the California Department of Justice’s SAFE-T evidence system to maintain and update information about the location and testing status of all newly collected rape kits. State statute specifies that, upon the request of a sexual assault victim, the law enforcement agency shall inform the victim of the status of the DNA testing of the rape kit evidence or other crime scene evidence from the victim’s case. However, without a way for victims to track their own rape kit online, this process is burdensome and not private. Victims must presently contact law enforcement agencies by phone or in person to receive an update on their kits, which is clearly not a victim sensitive process. 

Over two dozen states across the nation—from Hawaii to Connecticut and many states in between—have already implemented similar online rape kit tracking portals.  The full list of states that have developed a rape kit tracking system is available on the End the Backlog website.

“Sexual assault survivors should have the right to know whether their evidence kits have been tested.  After bravely undergoing an exam after an assault, this bill will provide survivors with the ability to track the kit to ensure that law enforcement is doing their statutory duty to analyze the evidence in a timely manner. I want to thank Senator Leyva for authoring this important legislation as well as co-sponsors the Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project for continuing to prioritize the rights of sexual assault survivors,” stated District Attorney O’Malley.

Founded by director, producer, actor and advocate Mariska Hargitay, the Joyful Heart Foundation is a leading national organization working to end the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide to help create a pathway to healing and justice for survivors of sexual assault. 

“We are proud to stand alongside longtime champion Senator Leyva and our partners Natasha Alexenko and Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O' Malley in support of SB 215, which would create a new portal within the state's current rape kit tracking system to allow survivors to have access to information about the status of their sexual assault kit,” said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy & Advocacy for Joyful Heart. “Our survivor-focused research shows that giving survivors a choice about how to receive information about their case can help counter the loss of self-determination and control at the core of the sexual assault experience. Creating a portal for survivors to check the status of their kit at their convenience can give survivors the control they need to heal on their own terms.”

Natasha’s Justice Project was founded in 2011 in pursuit of justice and empowerment for survivors by striving to eliminate the rape kit backlog crisis in California and across the nation.

“My sexual assault evidence kit collected dust for nearly a decade after I was raped and robbed at gunpoint. I was unaware of the fact that my rape kit had not been processed.  In the interim, the man that assaulted me was on a nationwide crime spree, putting lives in danger. I am inspired by Senator Leyva and her team’s relentless pursuit of justice for survivors of sexual violence. This essential legislation empowers survivors and acknowledges our importance in the investigative process. Survivors matter. Public safety matters,” noted Natasha’s Justice Project Founder Natasha Simone Alexenko.

Senator Leyva previously authored legislation signed into law to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape (SB 813), criminalize sextortion (SB 500), ban secret settlements in cases of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex discrimination (SB 820) and require the prompt testing of rape kits (SB 22).

Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) has signed on as principal coauthor of SB 215, which will soon be assigned to the appropriate policy committee(s) for consideration.