In a follow-up to summer legislation establishing rules for the submission and collection of sexual assault kit evidence, Republican Gov. Rick Snyder signed into law Tuesday a bill which calls for the creation of a kit tracking and reporting commission in order to “develop guidelines and a plan to implement a uniform statewide system to track the location, lab submission status, completion of forensic testing, and storage of sexual assault evidence kits.”
Sexual assault evidence collection kits — commonly referred to as rape kits — are forensic evidence collection kits used by trained practitioners to find any DNA that may have been left by a suspect of rape. The new law, now Public Act 318 of 2014, mandates that the commission not only implement a system of tracking rape kits but also that it develop an electronic database for victims or their designees to track the status of their test results, if they so choose.
Further, Public Act 318 asks that the commission “recommend sources of public and private funding to implement the plans developed under this subsection.” This is in addition to $25,000 of appropriated funding that will be provided for the state’s Department of Human Services on an annual basis.
“Too many victims have been waiting too long for justice they deserve,” Snyder said in a release. “By ensuring faster testing and more organized record-keeping we can improve public safety and help put the minds of assault victims at ease.”
This most recent law complements Public Act 227, which Snyder signed into law this June. That act provided for the establishment of a more streamlined system of collecting and organizing forensic evidence in sexual assault cases. Both public acts have been in response to the discovery in 2009 of more than 11,000 untested rape kits in a Detroit Police Department storage facility.
Debi Cain, the executive director of the Michigan Domestic and Sexual Violence Prevention and Treatment Board, said in a release that the Public Act 318 “sends a powerful message to sexual assault victims in Michigan that our state is committed to making justice for victims a priority.”
State Rep. Jeff Irwin (D–Ann Arbor) said in an interview he supports Public Act 318, calling it a step in the right direction, but added that he hopes the act of establishing a committee to oversee rape kit collection processes is not a substitute for action.
“The commission will be effective if one of its responsibilities is to encourage state lawmakers and future governors to actually put the resources into filling some of the holes at the local level,” Irwin said.
He added that in many Michigan localities, rape kits might go unattended because there is more work than there are resources to do that work.
“It is certainly more effective to address local financial needs with a small amount of state resources,” Irwin said. “That is more direct and effective in accomplishing the goal than simply monitoring the deficiencies at a local level and highlighting them.”
Irwin also credited Wayne County prosecutor Kym Worthy for having lobbied the state government for years to make this change.
Holly Rider-Milkovich, director of the University’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Awareness Center, said one of Public Act 318’s biggest points of success will be the development of a tracking system for survivors.
“The tracking of the kit is another, I think, really important component because it ensures that, to the greatest extent possible, survivors understand where that forensic information is in the system, and that that forensic information does not get lost,” she said. “So it’s not only about tracking it, but also about keeping survivors informed.”
Rider-Milkovich also highlighted Public Act 320, which was also signed into law Tuesday and requires that health care personnel responsible for examining or treating rape survivors inform patients of the availability of forensic examination kits and their subsequent right to use them.
She said the bills collectively also give sexual assault survivors a one-year grace period to decide whether or not they want their forensic results to move forward to a law enforcement proceeding.
“All of these bills together really are about greater accountability in the system to ensure that this evidence is moving forward in a timely fashion, that it is being preserved appropriately, and that survivors have information about what happens to the evidence that is being collected from their bodies,” Rider-Milkovich said.
Public Act 321 was signed into law Tuesday as well, and requires that individuals charged with breaking local ordinances prohibiting prostitution, among other penal code violations, be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.
“Examination or test results that indicate the presence of venereal disease, hepatitis B infection, hepatitis C infection, HIV infection, or acquired immunodeficiency syndrome must be reported to the defendant,” the bill reads.