SACRAMENTO – After earning strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and Assembly, Governor Gavin Newsom last week signed legislation authored by Senator Connie M. Leyva (D-Chino) that requires the addition of a new online portal to California’s existing rape kit tracking system to allow survivors of sexual assault to privately and electronically track and receive updates regarding the status, location and information regarding their rape kit.
Sponsored jointly by Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project, SB 215 will add a survivor portal to California’s existing rape kit tracking system—the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database—to ensure a private and uncomplicated option for survivors to learn important timely information regarding their rape kits. Existing California law requires law enforcement and forensic laboratories to use the California Department of Justice’s SAFE-T evidence system to maintain and update information about the location and testing status of all newly collected rape kits. Upon the request of a sexual assault survivor, state statute specifies that the law enforcement agency shall inform the survivor of the status of the DNA testing of the rape kit evidence or other crime scene evidence from the survivor’s case.
“As the author of SB 215, I am so proud that we are once again prioritizing and empowering rape survivors by making sure that they able to easily and privately find out where their rape kit is in the process,” Senator Leyva said. “A rape kit exam is invasive and retraumatizing, so survivors should absolutely be able to track their rape kit every step of the way. I would like to thank our amazing coalition of sponsors—District Attorney Nancy O’Malley, Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project—and supporters for testifying, Tweeting, writing and speaking out about the critical need for this legislation. With today’s signature by Governor Newsom, SB 215 will help to empower survivors, hold rapists accountable and strengthen public safety across California.”
Once implemented, SB 215 will ensure that California joins over two dozen states across the nation that have already implemented similar online rape kit tracking portals. The full list of states that have developed a rape kit tracking system is available on the End the Backlog website.
Throughout her legislative career, Senator Leyva has authored related legislation that has been signed into law, including measures to eliminate the statute of limitations on rape (SB 813), criminalize sextortion (SB 500), ban secret settlements in cases of sexual assault, sexual harassment and sex discrimination (SB 820) and require the prompt testing of rape kits (SB 22).
The bill sponsors have worked diligently at every step of the process to help ensure the approval of SB 215 by the California State Legislature and Governor Gavin Newsom. Here is what they have stated regarding this important legislation and issue:
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley:
“Sexual assault survivors should have the right to know whether their evidence kits have been tested. After bravely undergoing an exam after an assault, this law will provide survivors with the ability to track the kit and the peace of mind to ensure that law enforcement is doing their statutory duty to analyze the evidence in a timely manner. I want to thank Governor Newsom for signing this legislation, our incredible author Senator Leyva, the California Legislature for passing it, as well as co-sponsors the Joyful Heart Foundation and Natasha’s Justice Project for continuing to prioritize the rights of sexual assault survivors.”
Joyful Heart Foundation Director of Policy & Advocacy Ilse Knecht:
“Behind every kit is a person—a sexual assault survivor—waiting for justice,” says Ilse Knecht, Directory of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Giving survivors access to information about their kits can help counter the loss of self-determination and control that is often at the core of a sexual assault experience. In 2016, Joyful Heart released Navigating Notification, a study on victim notification that found access to information about the status of their cases can promote healing for survivors of sexual assault. We thank Governor Newsom for signing this bill that signals to all survivors that they and what happened to them matters.”
Natasha’s Justice Project Founder Natasha Alexenko:
“My sexual assault evidence kit collected dust for nearly a decade after I was raped and robbed at gunpoint. I was unaware of the fact that my rape kit had not been processed. In the interim, the man that assaulted me was on a nationwide crime spree, putting lives in danger. I am inspired by Senator Leyva and her team’s relentless pursuit of justice for survivors of sexual violence. This essential legislation empowers survivors and acknowledges our importance in the investigative process because we are an integral part of that process. Survivors matter. Public safety matters.”