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Kansas bill promises speedy review of untested sexual assault kits

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TOPEKA — Kansas advocates say a bill approved by a Senate committee Thursday will ensure survivors who undergo sexual assault exams will have their evidence kits tested in a timely fashion.

Under House Bill 2228, providers of these exams would be required to send evidence packs to the lab quickly, no longer letting them languish on the shelves as they have previously. Proponents said this would prevent a backlog of kits from forming as it did in the mid-2010s when more than 2,000 tests went untested.

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Lindsey Ford, an attorney with the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, has sat with survivors through the challenging exam process. She said ensuring these kits are processed quickly is paramount because of the invasive nature of the tests.

“It can take several hours. It involves photographing sensitive areas where damage might have been involved and very detailed efforts to collect evidence,” Ford said. “It is done in the immediate aftermath of a violation of someone’s personal autonomy, so for a survivor to go and to submit to one of these exams, it is a difficult choice.”

The bill was unanimously approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now heads to the full chamber for further consideration. The measure passed the Kansas House last year without opposition.

In 2014, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation began a program to determine the number of untested sexual assault kits and, in the process, determine ways to improve upon the process. A committee of forensic nurses, law enforcement, prosecutors, advocacy groups and more worked to find policy recommendations to optimize the process, like this bill.

Robert Jacobs, with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, said currently if a survivor chooses not to report the assault, the test is stored for up to five years because she may later choose to report it. That timeframe was put in place to match the statute of limitation on reporting which no longer exists.

He said national recommendations now suggest keeping the kits for 20 years, which would mirror the updated statute of limitations in Kansas.

Since 2015, KBI has received 1038 anonymous tests, of which only 115 people later decided to report sexual assault.

“Unfortunately, over the past six years, 211 kits have been destroyed per the statute,” Jacobs said. “Those kits will never be able to move forward with those cases. Currently 712 unreported sexual assault kits are currently being stored at the KBI forensic laboratory and once this bill is passed, we anticipate that those 712 kits that we currently have in storage will then be converted to a 20-year time frame.”

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An additional goal of the bill is to increase access to these exams by allowing evidence collection to be done by specially trained medical personnel within Child Advocacy Centers and medical centers.

Ed Klump, with the Kansas Sheriffs and Police Officers Associations, said he fully supports the bill.

“Not only will it help solidify the voluntary policy we have advocated for, but it will hopefully serve to assure adequate funding of our forensic labs to maintain the capacity to meet the demand of this important evidence testing,” Klump said.

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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Resources for survivors

If you have experienced sexual violence or trauma, please seek the help that’s right for you. There are many options available, and you don’t have to file a police report if you don’t want to.

Get 24/7 help in Lawrence: The Sexual Trauma & Abuse Care Center
  • Call 785-843-8985 to reach an advocate, 24/7. (Consider saving that number in your phone in case you or someone you know ever needs it.)
  • After an assault: What are my options? Check this page for detailed information about
    • talking to an advocate,
    • going to the hospital,
    • making a police report,
    • and/or talking to a counselor or therapist.
  • On campus? Check this page for specific resources for the University of Kansas, Haskell Indian Nations University, Baker University, Ottawa University and more.
Resources on KU’s campus:
  • Contact CARE (Campus Assistance, Resource, and Education) Coordinator Merrill Evans: Make an appointment with Merrill by email, care@ku.edu, or by calling 785-864-9255.
  • Direct message KU CARE Sisters on Instagram. You don’t need to be affiliated with Greek Life to reach out and/or receive assistance.
  • Find more KU campus resources at this link.
Domestic violence situations: The Willow Domestic Violence Center
  • Reach the Willow for help 24/7 at 785-843-3333.
  • Find more resources on the Willow’s website at this link.
  • National hotline: Call 1-800-799-SAFE (7233), text “START” to 88788, and/or visit thehotline.org to chat and learn more, 24/7.
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