OPINION

Bill would change the ways evidence is collected in sexual assault cases. HB 2228 should be made Kansas law.

By The Editorial Advisory Board
In 2017, Jena Sparling, a forensic scientist for the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, demonstrates use of a sexual assault test.

Victims of sexual violence should be able to report crimes in a way that promotes their healing in addition to meeting the needs of law enforcement.

A new bill would make important changes to the way evidence is collected in sexual assault cases. HB 2228 is smart policy that Kansas needs to better protect victims and hold offenders accountable.

The bill comes on the heels of a backlog of over 2,200 untested rape kits that became public knowledge in 2017. Following a concerted effort driven by the Kansas Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), the backlog was eliminated in 2019.

Subsequent investigation found the kits had gone untested for a wide range of reasons but often came down to a case being difficult to prosecute or a victim choosing not to participate in the legal process after reporting.

These barriers to prosecution are incredibly common in sexual assault cases, in which victims experience significant trauma. However, untested kits represent a loss of critical information. Even if the DNA evidence doesn't further prosecution of the case in which it was collected, it can link cases together to identify serial rapists and help prevent future rapes.

The new bill would prevent a future backlog by requiring law enforcement agencies to send all sexual assault kits for testing within 30 days. Even if cases aren't prosecuted, DNA from the kits would be stored in a federal system and checked against matches across the United States.

The bill also extends the time DNA from some sexual assault kits is stored. Since 2009, victims of rape in Kansas have had the option of having a sexual assault kit collected anonymously, with no report to law enforcement. The kits were then held by the KBI for five years, able to be used to support a later report if the victim chose to make one.

The new bill would require storing the kits for 20 years. This piece of the legislation makes sense, given that in 2013, Kansas eliminated the statute of limitations for sexual assault. Victims should have as long as possible to come forward and have evidence preserved.

The final part of the bill allows child advocacy centers to be a site for sexual assault exams in addition to the medical facilities where such exams currently take place. This piece of the legislation helps ensure vulnerable children are served in the best possible environment. One can imagine the fear of a child enduring a medical exam to investigate sexual assault.

At the very least, such exams should be conducted by appropriately trained professionals in a safe, child-friendly setting. 

Legislators should put Kansas law to work for victims, helping provide them additional options for reporting sexual assault, in the hopes that perpetrators see justice.