New Illinois law designed help protect sexual assault victims

By Carly O'Keefe - bio | email

CARBONDALE, IL (KFVS) - According to the group Human Rights Watch, Illinois has at least 4,000 untested rape kits stored in police departments throughout the state. But a new law just signed by Governor Pat Quinn will change that.

The Sexual Assault Evidence Submissions Act is the first law of its kind in the nation. It will require all law enforcement agencies in the state to submit any new rape kits that are completed in their jurisdiction, and send in any previously unsubmitted kits for testing in the coming months.

Rape crisis counselor Megan Jones with the Women's Center in Carbondale has seen firsthand how sexual assault victims feel when they've had a rape kit completed but the evidence is never tested.

"It's frustrating when they do choose to have a kit done and then nothing ever happens," said Jones. "Nothing ever goes anywhere with the case."

Illinois State Police Forensics Commander Arlene Hall says rape kits can fall thru the cracks for a variety of reasons. She says sometimes prosecutors don't think there's enough evidence to press charges, other times, investigators learn no crime was committed. Either way the new law means all of those kits will be tested.

"If a victim goes to the hospital and had a kit or evidence taken, then police agencies are required to submit that for analysis within 10 days of when it's collected," Hall said.

But Illinois State Police crime labs are already coping with backlogs. Last year, more than 2000 cases were waiting on DNA testing. Forensic scientists worked overtime to whittle that number down, now the backlog is reduced to only a few hundred awaiting testing.

"We are very pleased with the progress we've made, but this legislation is going to have a significant impact on that," Hall said. "But we all know it was the right thing to do, we just have to find a way to get it done."

Hall says the state may have to contract private forensic testing vendors to help with all of the older unsubmitted kits to complete the work in a timely manner.

Jones says whatever it takes to get those kits tested; it'll be worth it for the victims of sexual assault.

"Hopefully this will help bring a little more justice to those who've survived a traumatic assault," said Jones.

The law goes into effect on September 1, 2010. By October 15, Illinois law enforcement agencies have to tell ISP about any unsubmitted rape kits and then forensic labs will have 180 days to develop a plan to test all of those kits.

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