How Kamala Harris’ Plan Would Address Iowa’s Rape Kit Backlog

Justice after a sexual assault is hard for victims to find, and Kamala Harris wants to make it a little easier. 

On Thursday, Harris announced a plan to eliminate the backlog many states have of untested rape kits, the equipment used by investigators to collect DNA samples and evidence from victims of sexual assault during a forensic medical exam.  

In 2016, Iowa had 4,265 unsubmitted kits. And in some cases, it can take months or years for kits to be tested. 

Harris’ proposal would invest $1 billion to allow states to fully eliminate their rape kit backlogs within four years and implement reforms to ensure a backlog does not happen again,” her campaign said in a release.

Harris has experience dealing with this issue from her time as Attorney General in California. 

In 2012, Harris announced the California Department of Justice had eliminated their backlog, which also reduced investigation time to 30 days from the previous 90 to 120. The state did this by increasing resources and developing new technology to speed up the process.

“The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault and rape,” Harris said in the press release. 

Under her plan, states can get more funding by doing four things: counting and reporting untested rape kits every year, requiring new rape kits be submitted and tested quickly, tracking rape kits and updating victims about the status, and increasing the availability of rape kits statewide. 

States can also work with the FBI or get federal funding for testing rape kits. 

Rape kits, according to End the Backlog, a program meant to raise awareness about the backlog of untested rape kits, cost between $1,000 to $1,500 to test. That cost is often a barrier to kits going through the system. In some cases, it takes months or years to have rape kits tested.

As of July 11, 1,127 kits have been tested in Iowa, thanks to the Iowa Department of Justice’s Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. Another 1,360 kits have been shipped to a private lab. 

Because DNA evidence carries weight in court, having evidence collected in a rape kit increases the likelihood of prosecution, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the nation’s biggest nonprofit anti-sexual assault organization.

The success of Harris’ California policy came a year after she dedicated resources and technology to speed up the process in the state. 

“We need the same focus at the national level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable,” Harris said.

 

by Nikoel Hytrek
Posted 7/12/19

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