Photo: Bill Oxford on Unsplash
Trigger Warning: This article will contain sensitive topics surrounding r*pe, sexual assault, abortion, and legislation threatening reproductive rights.
All eyes around the United States have been on Georgia after legislators passed a historically restrictive “heartbeat” bill, essentially outlawing abortion after six weeks -- except in the cases of rape or incest.
Apart from the controversial bill, Georgia's legislature has also recently passed House Bill 282. The bill would keep sexual assault evidence for as long as 50 years or until the case is solved, whereas previously, state law called for sexual assault evidence to be discarded after 10 years.
The evidence that HB 282 specifically protects is rape kits. Rape kits refer to sexual assault evidence collected by specific health practitioners known as sexual assault nurse examiners (or SANES).
The kit itself typically consists of materials to collect evidence from the victim’s body, such as plastic bags, cotton swabs, combs, and blood sampling materials, though the contents vary by state and county.
Georgia’s rape kit legislation can be traced back to the rape kit backlog. The backlog is essentially years of rape kits that go untested and instead sits in a crime lab due to a judge or prosectuor not requesting DNA analysis of the kits.
Alternately, some of the kits may be submitted to tested in those same crime labs, but are still awaiting testing. Rape kits are considered backlogged after going 30 days without testing. Because not all jurisdictions within Georgia have a system to track rape kits, it is uncertain how many truly remain untested.
Georgia’s rape kit legislation began when Senate Bill 304, or “Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault,” was enacted in 2016. SB 304 has many notable components. First, it allows the Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) to conduct an audit of rape kits to submit them to law enforcement for further testing.
The other aspect of the bill includes notifying law enforcement of evidence collected via the rape kits, as well as allowing law enforcement to collect the evidence within 96 hours. Law enforcement must then deliver to the state’s crime lab within 30 days.
The bill proved to be successful in its mission of decreasing and eventually clearing the rape-kit backlog, as the number of untested kits went from 10,314 kits in January 2017 to under 2,900 kits in April 2018.
As a result of the bill, the state of Georgia was able to successfully audit the submitted evidence.
Before the state’s recent rape kit reform, many victims before the bills were unsure what became of the evidence. Now, they’ll be able to seek justice.
Zaira Khan is a junior at Mercer University where she is pursuing a double major in public health and sociology. She enjoys exploring the world around her and hopes to contribute to a more honest, thought-provoking world.