Thousands of untested rape kits need processing, legislators say

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By Bay City News Service 

Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, and Sen. Connie Leyva, D-Chino, today emphasized the importance of two pieces of legislation that aim to tackle a backlog of untested rape kits in California.

A rape kit, or sexual assault kit, is a voluntary exam for victims directly after an attack occurs. The process can take up to six hours and collects DNA evidence from the victim's clothing and body.

Senate Bill 1449 will mandate that new rape kits are submitted to law enforcement within 20 days and tested no later than 120 days after they're received, and Assembly Bill 3118 will require an audit to determine how many rape kits are untested in California. Both were introduced on Feb. 16.

Leyva said SB 1449 makes one critical amendment to existing law -- that law enforcement "shall" follow listed time frames for testing kits, rather than "should" follow. It also includes a budget request of $2 million to fund the testing, according to Leyva.

Authorities do not know exactly how many rape kits are untested, but advocacy group End the Backlog has analyzed law enforcement records to find more than 13,000 untested kits in California.

Law enforcement officials might neglect to test rape kits when they believe it is unnecessary, Chiu said. This could include a case where the perpetrator turns themselves in to the police.

Chiu said, however, that rape kits are an importance part of evidence gathering and could connect a perpetrator to multiple crimes.

Natasha Alexenko, a survivor of sexual assault and founder of the Natasha Project, said she was unaware her rape kit went untested for nearly 15 years. 

Her perpetrator committed a string of crimes across the nation during that time period and she said she blamed herself for "every other victim this monster created."

She said the perpetrator was finally arrested after law enforcement officials tested her rape kit.

"I want to be one of the last people that gets up here behind a podium and tells you that ... even though their body was a crime scene, their rape kit sat and collected dust," Alexenko said.

Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O'Malley is sponsoring the legislative package. As a college student, she assisted women at a rape crisis center in Contra Costa County.

She said the rape kit of one victim, untested for several years, was later connected to the Golden State Killer. Joseph James DeAngelo, 72, was arrested in Sacramento on April 24 due to DNA evidence.

"If that doesn't convince them, nothing will," Leyva said, answering a question about DeAngelo's arrest. "I think it just shows that DNA catches bad guys."

O'Malley added that Alameda County law enforcement were able to purge a backlog of 1,900 untested rape kits collected over 15 years after they audited their inventory. Some perpetrators are now being prosecuted for their crimes, she said.

The Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors has also pushed for funding to test rape kits this year.

"It's about time," O'Malley said about the push for legislation to ensure justice for sexual assault survivors. "Enough is enough."