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House passes bill aimed at improving sexual assault kit processing

By KTVA CBS 11 News 3:31 PM April 7, 2017

In an effort to tackle the state’s domestic and sexual violence problem, the Alaska House of Representatives unanimously passed a bill that would make sexual assault kit processing more efficient and hold law enforcement agencies accountable for backlogs. The bill also offers victims options for submitting the kits.

In 2016, Alaskans learned that more than 3,400 submitted sexual assault kits were untested, some dating back to 1993. It’s believed more kits were untested at that time, as only 17 of Alaska’s 52 law enforcement agencies participated in the audit.

House Bill 31, sponsored by Rep. Geran Tarr, aims to ensure that, in the future, all sexual assault kits are collected, tested and preserved in a timely and efficient manner.

“We know DNA evidence can get dangerous criminals off our streets,” Tarr said in a statement Friday. “The current inadequate system for processing sexual assault examination kits allows criminals in our communities to continue causing harm. This bill improves the system by offering victims multiple reporting options, improving training for law enforcement and requiring a statewide audit.”

The importance of the exams and kits was highlighted in a recent case, when DNA from multiple kits connected Clifford Lee to eight different sexual assaults that occurred between 2001 and 2014. A similar case was solved when DNA connected two men to a decade-old sexual assault, leading to their arrests in 2014.

Under Tarr’s bill, victims of sexual assault can undergo a forensic exam in whichever one of three ways is most comfortable for them.

“Victims deserve justice and a process that respects them and acknowledges the trauma they’ve experienced,” Tarr said.

The first option allows the evidence collected during a forensic examine to be analyzed and used in a criminal investigation and would include the victim’s information. The second allows a victim to receive a medical forensic exam but also lets that person choose not to participate in the criminal justice system, although the victim’s identifying information would be required.

The third option protects a victim’s anonymity and would allow them to undergo a medical exam and submit the sexual assault kit for storage anonymously. The kit would be identified by a number rather than a name, and the victim would receive that number for use in the future.

“This option allows evidence and information to be given to law enforcement without any identifying information about the victim,” Tarr explained.

HB 31 will be transmitted to the Senate for consideration.

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