Legislation to help survivors of sexual assault track evidence collection kits
Gov. Kathy Hochul has signed legislation (S7867-A/A9596-A) to establish a statewide electronic tracking system for sexual offense evidence collection kits, commonly known as rape kits. Her team said, “This tracking system will ensure that all survivors of sexual assault have access to information about the status and location of their kits.”
Hochul said, "Survivors of sexual assault deserve support, compassion, agency and justice, and we are committed to doing everything in our power to deliver the accountability they deserve. This new tracking system will be a critical tool to empower survivors with the ability to track these kits, and supports our overall efforts to make New York state safer and more supportive for all."
Legislation S7867-A/A9596-A directs the Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) to create a tracking system for kits in the custody of law enforcement agencies. This tracking system will allow survivors to access information about the status of their rape kit and will be critical to ensure accountability for timely processing.
New York State Sen. Alessandra Biaggi said, "New York state's new rape kit tracking system will restore agency to survivors and will allow them to access information on the status of their rape kit if and when they are ready. Access to information regarding rape kits can help survivors counter the loss of self-determination and control that is often at the core of a sexual assault experience.”
The DCJS system will track kits from the point they are collected by law enforcement and their subsequent testing by crime labs as evidence. This tracking system complements the tracking system that will be available to survivors who choose not to submit to law enforcement, but whose kits are to be stored by OVS for a 20-year period.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "We applaud the governor and Legislature for ensuring victims of crime have this valuable tool to help keep them informed as evidence is processed for victims who choose to report crime to law enforcement. OVS is dedicated to providing victims of crime with the support and resources they need whether or not they choose to move forward with criminal cases."
Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, "We at DCJS are dedicated to improving the criminal justice system for all, and we are proud to help empower sexual assault survivors by providing them with up-to-date and accurate information on the status of evidence processing in their cases. We thank Gov. Hochul and our partners in the legislature for their leadership and commitment to ensuring that sexual assault victims have the support and resources they need and deserve."
State Police Acting Superintendent Steven A. Nigrelli said, "I want to thank Gov. Hochul for her leadership in providing support for survivors of sexual assault. This new tracking system will ensure that survivors have access to updates about the evidence kit collected in their case, and will hold medical providers, forensic laboratories and law enforcement accountable to ensure the kits are processed in a timely manner."
OVS is responsible for storing sexual offense evidence collection kits that have not been released to law enforcement. Public Health Law requires the state to store kits for 20 years, and a victim of crime may request certain information about their kit or personal items in storage. OVS is currently developing a consent form, which will be available on the agency's website, allowing victims of crime to complete and submit a request to OVS via email at [email protected]. This helps give victims and survivors of sexual assault time they may need to decide whether to report the crime and release their kit to law enforcement for testing.
Earlier this year, Hochul announced nearly $373.2 million in federal and state funding over three years to 219 nonprofit organizations and coalitions, hospitals and government agencies to support 239 victim assistance programs that provide crisis counseling, therapy, emergency shelter, civil legal assistance, case management and advocacy. This is the single largest investment of funding ever administered by OVS, and nearly half of the funding (47%) will support programs serving victims and survivors of domestic violence and their families. In addition, 13% will provide funding for programs serving victims and survivors of sexual assault.
Hochul’s team said, “Financial assistance administered by OVS provides a critical safety net and helps victims, survivors and family members with medical and counseling expenses, funeral and burial expenses, lost wages and support, in addition to other assistance. New York is the only state in the nation with no cap on medical or counseling costs, which means individuals can receive assistance as long as they need it.
“Victim assistance programs also help individuals file claims with OVS to obtain compensation or reimbursement for expenses directly resulting from the crime. While eligibility for compensation or reimbursement is determined by an individual's income and access to other resources, such as health insurance, victim assistance programs provide services and support at no cost to anyone who needs them. OVS Resource Connect allows New Yorkers to easily search for programs by specific concerns or issues they are facing.”
Visit the Office of Victim Services' website for more information or follow the agency on Twitter and Facebook. For more information about services offered by the agency, including eligibility guidelines, visit ovs.ny.gov or call 1-800-247-8035.
Gwen Wright, interim executive director of the New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said, "NYSCASA applauds Gov. Hochul and the NYS Legislature for passage and signing of this important legislation into law. The statewide rape kit tracking system will be one more tool that the great state of New York provides in bringing justice to survivors of sexual assault and rape. Gov. Hochul has championed the rights of survivors of sexual assault for years. We are delighted that she recognizes the importance of tracking the status of rape kits for survivors to feel in control of their destinies."
Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, said, "The Joyful Heart Foundation applauds Gov. Kathy Hochul for signing S.7867-A. (The) law adds New York to the growing states that have achieved comprehensive six-pillar rape kit reform. With this tracking system in place, New York joins 36 states, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico in increasing transparency and accountability around the collection and testing of this vital evidence. Trackings systems also ensure kits are tested quickly and, with the implementation of a victim portal, gives survivors a tool they need to heal. At Joyful Heart, we know that giving survivors online access to information about their kit on their own terms can help counter the loss of self-determination and control at the core of the sexual assault experience. We thank Gov. Hochul for signing this bill and look forward to working with her office to implement this important reform."