HARRISBURG—The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee today released its findings on the “rape kit backlog” in Pennsylvania and provided recommendations to improve sexual assault evidence collection, preservation and storage, testing and victim notification.
“The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape (PCAR) is grateful for the work of Senator Bob Mensch and his Senate colleagues. We appreciate their commitment to identifying resources and needed changes to policies and practices across legal and medical systems to ensure victims of sexual violence have access to appropriate care and assistance across the Commonwealth,” Delilah Rumburg, Chief Executive Officer of PCAR said.
The report noted that more than 90 percent of Pennsylvania’s municipalities provided rape kit backlog reports to the Department of Health in 2017. Pennsylvania’s “backlog” – defined as kits that have not been tested for more than a year since evidence was collected – has declined from 1,908 kits in 2015 to 1,214 in 2016. The report attributes this progress to improvements in law enforcement training; federal and state funding; increased staffing in laboratories; local collaborations across law enforcement, medical, and rape crisis systems among other factors.
The report also identified some areas for improvement, such as clarifying issues of jurisdiction when the crime occurred out of state but the victim sought medical care and evidence collection in Pennsylvania. Additionally, the report indicated some confusion regarding what constitutes a backlogged kit, per Act 27, and further inconsistencies between counties in providing options for victims to have evidence collected and preserved while remaining anonymous. Act 27 allows victims to have evidence collected and stored for no less than two years. This gives victims time to decide whether to make a full report to police and give permission for evidence to be tested.
“The experience of being raped creates confusion and a sense of being overwhelmed – it is critical that victims in Pennsylvania are provided quality medical care as an essential first step,” Rumburg said. “Options to preserve evidence and make a police report must also be standardized, and a victim must have immediate access to skilled rape crisis support services. The Legislative Budget and Finance Committee Report clearly reinforces the importance of streamlining how we respond to the needs of every rape victim, regardless of where that victim lives or was assaulted.”
The Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape applauds these legislative efforts and encourages further consideration of a streamlined and standardized process to ameliorate the stress and trauma confronted by rape victims, better collection, preservation and storage of rape kit evidence, along with the necessary resources to speed testing and analysis. Rape crisis centers play a critical role in supporting survivors through this process—from providing support during the forensic exam to long-term advocacy and counseling.
Lessening the stigma of rape and enabling victims to more easily come forward and report will better support them while improving overall safety. We look forward to the opportunity to continue working with Senator Mensch and the other members of the General Assembly to solve this ongoing problem and better protect all our citizens.
ABOUT THE PENNSYLVANIA COALITION AGAINST RAPE:
Founded in 1975, PCAR works to end sexual violence and advocates for the rights and needs of sexual assault victims. PCAR partners with a network of rape crisis programs to bring help, hope and healing around issues of sexual violence in all 67 counties of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.