On Monday, Alaska House Rep. Geran Tarr (D-Anchorage) pre-filed public safety legislation that would require the timely testing of sexual assault/rape kits in Alaska.
HB 20 aims to prevent a backlog of untested kits by requiring testing within six months, according to press release sent Tuesday by Tarr’s office.
“In many cases, rape kits are evidence of heinous crimes. Justice for victims demands that we find ways to remove bureaucratic hurdles and test these kits in a timely manner. Every day a sexual assault kit goes untested is another day that a predator is on the streets endangering us all. A six-month deadline should be more than enough time to send these kits to the lab, get the results, and start the process of justice for victims,” Tarr said.
The introduction of HB 20 comes on the heels of the successful passage of legislation last year sponsored by Tarr, requiring the Department of Public Safety to provide information to the Alaska Legislature annually detailing the number of untested rape kits in Alaska. According to the first report, the untested rape kit backlog stands at 2,586. Nationwide, that number could be more than 100,000 based on estimates by End the Backlog, a program run by the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation. HB 20 in its current form only applies to future rape kits collected and does not address the current backlog.
Rape kits are a routine part of medical examinations for victims who have reported cases of sexual assault and are used to test for the DNA of the perpetrator. Without specific laws or written guidance, the testing of these kits is decided by local officials on a case-by-case basis. According to 2017 statistics from the FBI and the 2018 report from Alaska’s Criminal Justice Commission, the rate of reported rape cases per 100,000 people in Alaska was the highest among individual states at 116.7, with the national average at 41.7.
“Having thousands of untested rape kits is not acceptable when Alaska leads the nation in the rate of rapes and sexual assaults. The DNA evidence in those untested kits can and should be used to identify abusers and provide justice to victims. Instead, many of the kits are collecting dust in some evidence locker while criminals walk free. That is simply unacceptable, and I encourage my colleagues in the Alaska Legislature to join me in supporting House Bill 20,” Tarr said in the release.
HB 20 is one of several bills filed for legislation before the beginning of the upcoming legislative session, which begins Jan. 15. All bills pre-filed this way will be introduced first when the session begins and potentially sent to committees before other legislation.
• By BRIAN MAZUREK, Peninsula Clarion