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Hochul announces opening of state facility to store sexual offense evidence collection kits that have not been released to law enforcement custody


Mon, Apr 24th 2023 05:55 pm

Secure storage gives survivors of sexual assault ability to receive medical care, consent to evidence collection and time to decide if they want to file a police report

√ State Office of Victim Services established the facility to comply with state law that requires unreported kits to be stored for 20 years from the date of collection

Press Release

Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the opening of a state facility to store sexual offense evidence collection kits that have not been released to law enforcement custody.

Her team said, “Secure storage gives individuals who have been sexually assaulted the ability to get medical care, consent to forensic evidence collection, and time to decide if they want to file a police report.

“The State Office of Victim Services established the facility to comply with the state law that requires unreported kits to be stored for 20 years from the date of collection. Capital Region, Mohawk Valley and Western New York hospitals are the first to notify survivors that their kits will be transferred and how they can track them. Hospitals in the state's remaining regions will follow that process in the coming months.”

Hochul said, "New York state remains committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault in every way possible. This new state facility will be a critical tool to help deliver support and justice, while providing a strong foundation for victims to heal and alleviate some of the pressure they may feel when it comes to legal timelines."

Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado said, "This facility will give survivors the opportunity to process what has happened and make decisions for their future on their terms. We are committed to supporting survivors and ensuring they have the resources, support, and a full range of services and options available to them as they begin the recovery process. This is a tremendous step forward for New York and for the rights of survivors."

New York State Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "Access to timely medical care following a sexual assault is critical. It allows an individual to seek treatment and medication, and other services and support that may help them decide whether to report the incident to police. If they are not ready to involve the criminal justice system, preserving forensic and other evidence also increases their options, and the secure storage of kits allows them the time and space to decide the next steps that are best for them."

Cronin joined state agency colleagues, medical professionals, victim advocates, law enforcement and other professionals at Albany Medical Center on Monday morning to discuss the facility's operations, and “to educate survivors that hospitals must make a concerted effort to contact them before their kits are transferred. This notification allows individuals to decide whether to transfer their kit to the facility, notify law enforcement about the incident, or consent to having their kit disposed.” 

Hospitals across the state have approximately 10,000 kits in storage.

Hochul’s team continued, “Located in the Capital Region, the facility is secure, climate-controlled, and designed to ensure the integrity of potential evidence. It began accepting kits in mid-January 2023 and, to date, Albany Medical Center and Glens Falls Hospital – both members of the Albany Med Health System – have transferred 525 items to the facility: 277 sexual offense evidence collection kits, 83 drug-facilitated sexual assault kits, and 165 other items such as clothing and bedding. The facility's current capacity is 17,400 items and will increase to 26,600 items once renovation of a second storage wing is complete.

“Prior to sending kits to the facility, hospital staff must be trained on the electronic system for logging and tracking kits and other items, and the victim notification portion of the system. Office of Victim Services staff are currently onboarding hospital staff in the Capital Region, Mohawk Valley and Western New York so they can transfer kits and other items to the facility and notify survivors. Hospital staff in Central New York, Long Island and the North Country are scheduled to receive the training in May. Office of Victim Services will train hospital staff in New York City in August, and they will train hospital staff in the Finger Lakes, Mid-Hudson and Southern Tier in November.”

New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado said, "New York state continues to lead on victim services and public safety. I am proud of my team's work to help ensure medical professionals have resources and training to provide high-quality, compassionate care to individuals in need. These important projects give survivors the ability to make decisions that are right for them, and allow them to stay informed regardless of whether they choose to engage with the criminal justice system."

New York State Department of Health Acting Commissioner Dr. James McDonald said, "It is so important that survivors receive the time, compassion and emotional support they need to heal from traumatic events that can impact every aspect of their lives.”

New York State Office of Children and Family Services Acting Commissioner Suzanne Miles-Gustave said, "The importance of this facility cannot be overstated. Survivors of sexual assault have the right to seek immediate medical care, and must also be given the necessary time and space to decide how to move forward after such a traumatic experience. The Office of Children and Family Services strongly stands alongside survivors by overseeing 28 community domestic violence agencies that are dual-certified as rape crisis programs, and we are proud that they provide aid at a time when it's needed the most. We can't thank OVS enough for taking bold, tangible action to let survivors know we will never stop supporting their physical and emotional well-being."

New York State Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Executive Director Kelli Owens said, "Many survivors do not disclose their sexual assault until years after the assault has occurred. The safe storage of SOECKs allows survivors to have the information and time they need to decide if they want to report to law enforcement, while receiving the physical and mental care they need. OPDV would like to acknowledge OVS' commitment to victims, and look forward to our continued partnership to get the message out and to provide education on the kit storage process."

New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance Commissioner Daniel W. Tietz said, "All too often, the sheer trauma of a sexual assault can leave a survivor questioning the best path forward in the days, months, and sometimes even years that follow. This facility provides a safe, centralized repository for sexual assault kits to be properly stored, giving survivors time to process their ordeal and to decide whether to involve law enforcement. As we mark National Crime Victims' Rights Week, this facility is a great example of how New York state and the Office of Victim Services are putting the needs of survivors at the forefront and ensuring they have the resources to assist in their recovery."

Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation Ilse Knecht said, "Survivors of sexual assault, no matter what reporting path they take, deserve to have access to information about their kit is and have the confidence that it is being securely stored. Our 2016 research, Navigating Notification, found that survivors feel a strong ownership of the material collected during their exam, and that having consistent on-demand information about the status of their kit can support survivors in their healing process. This new facility, the first of its kind in the country, is a meaningful step forward for New York in creating a trauma-informed system that makes the needs of survivors, and their healing, a priority."

Division of Forensic Medicine Program Manager at Albany Medical Center Kaylin Dawson R.N. said, "Albany Medical Center's emergency department is staffed 24/7 by sexual assault forensic examiners who are specially trained to treat patients who have been sexually assaulted and to collect evidence that can aid in conviction. Thanks in part to the evidence we've collected, patients have options after they receive medical care, including the option to pursue charges through the justice system.”

The state Division of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) provides sexual offense evidence collection kits, and drug facilitated sexual assault kits, at no cost to hospitals and medical facilities. DCJS, in partnership with a multidisciplinary team of professionals, recently updated the kits to streamline the evidence collection process, make it less invasive and extend the timeframe for obtaining forensic evidence from 96 hours to 120 hours. DCJS also must establish an electronic system that will allow survivors to track their kits from the point they are collected by law enforcement and subsequently sent to a crime lab for testing. That system is expected to be fully operational by 2025.

The Office of Victim Services directly reimburses medical providers for the cost of a forensic rape exam (FRE) if an individual does not have private health insurance or chooses not to use their private health care insurance for the examination. This measure is an exception to the agency's payer of last resort rule, and provides for the personal privacy of victims. The Office of Victim Services also accepts FRE claims in lieu of police reports, which enables individuals to seek financial assistance and reimbursement from OVS for other expenses related to the crime.

OVS funds and supports 239 victim assistance programs statewide that provide essential services, such as crisis counseling, support groups, case management, emergency shelter, civil legal help and relocation assistance, among other assistance, to victims and survivors of sexual assault and other crimes, and their families. Individuals may visit ovs.ny.gov/connect to find these programs, which provide services at no cost and regardless of whether an individual has reported the crime to police. New York state's domestic and sexual violence hotline also is available for confidential support and advocacy 24/7: 800-942-6906 (voice), 844-997-2121 (text) and opdv.ny.gov (chat).

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