Working to Bring Closure and Establish Justice for Sexual Assault Victims
Missouri has a transparency problem when it comes to sexual assault testing kits. Following an alleged sexual assault, these kits are used to gather evidence for law enforcement’s investigation into the assault. It takes courage for victims of sexual assault to come forward and submit themselves to this highly invasive examination — often conducted by a stranger. According to a recently published report from the attorney general’s office, there are more than 4,880 untested sexual assault kits in Missouri. The evidence contained in these kits plays a vital role in prosecuting the predators who commit these heinous acts.
Missouri currently has no statewide system in place for tracking these kits and their location or progression during the evidentiary process. To address this issue, my colleagues and I passed a wide-ranging criminal justice reform bill aiming to help bring justice to those who have suffered from sexual assault. House Bill 1355 requires the Department of Public Safety, with the assistance of the attorney general, to develop procedures for gathering, storing and transmitting evidence contained in sexual assault kits. These procedures must also monitor the kits and its contents before, during and after the evidence undergoes a forensic exam. The legislation requires the department and the attorney general’s process to include a detailed timeline, ensuring health care personnel, law enforcement and others have a clear understanding of their roles during and after the forensic investigation. If the sexual assault case goes unsolved, the legislation requires law enforcement to retain the sexual assault kit and its evidence for 30 years. In addition, the legislation directs the attorney general’s office to create an electronic tracking system to monitor all sexual assault kits in real-time. Through this system, hospitals, law enforcement, crime labs and most importantly survivors will be able to know, at all times, where these kits and their components are during the investigation.
We must do everything we can to prosecute the predators who commit these acts. Through this legislation, the attorney general’s office will have an effective, common-sense tool that allows everyone involved in the sexual assault investigation access to the location of the investigation kit and its contents. In addition to passing this critical legislation, my colleagues and I allocated $3 million to the attorney’s general’s office for the purpose of collecting, testing and tracking sexual assault kits. Through HB 1355 and the funds allocated during the budget process, I believe the attorney general’s office now has the tools it needs to guarantee untested kits never fall through the cracks again. Individuals who commit these horrific acts should never walk free simply because an investigation kit was never tested, misplaced or lost.
As always, it is an honor and privilege to be your State Senator and my door is always open to your concerns, questions or comments. Please feel free to contact me at (573) 751-2757 or visit my web page at www.senate.mo.gov/riddle.