(COLUMBUS, Ohio)— Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine announced today that his office is developing a statewide system that will increase transparency surrounding the collection, submission, and analysis of sexual assault kit evidence in Ohio.
The “Ohio Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System” will give those who have undergone a sexual assault forensic examination the option to track the status of their rape kit evidence online.
“Sexual assault survivors have already gone through unimaginable trauma, and not knowing where their cases stand can be agonizing,” said Attorney General DeWine. “This new system will empower survivors by giving them the ability to instantly and anonymously find out where their evidence is located and whether or not it has been submitted for testing.”
By entering a barcode number into the free, online program, survivors who choose to use the system will be able to follow their evidence as it proceeds from the collection at a medical facility to inventory at a law enforcement agency, to analysis at a crime lab, and to storage or destruction.
New legislation introduced by State Senator Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and State Representative Dorothy Pelanda (R-Marysville) seeks to require all agencies involved in the chain-of-custody of sexual assault kits to participate in the tracking program.
“As we continue to help and encourage victims of sexual assault to rebuild their lives, it is imperative that we provide them the ability to check the status of the testing of their rape kits quietly and discreetly,” said Senator Kunze. “Affording them the opportunity to do so in a safe, secure manner ensures their privacy. We can allow survivors to continue moving forward with the option to check on the progress to help with the emotional healing and journey to moving forward from their horrific experience.”
“Attorney General DeWine and his office have demonstrated tremendous leadership and diligence when it comes to this issue. The bills introduced this week in the House and Senate represent a crucial next step in the process,” said Representative Pelanda. “I look forward to working with Attorney General DeWine, my great colleague Senator Kunze, and my brothers and sisters in the House of Representatives as we move forward with this legislation.”
Attorney General DeWine is also creating an advisory group to study best practices and provide advice on how Ohio’s tracking system should operate. The advisory group will include victim advocates, sexual assault nurse examiners, law enforcement, prosecutors, and representatives from hospital associations and crime laboratories. The members of the advisory group, who will be announced at a later date, will give special consideration to protecting the privacy of survivors who use the system.
“We are excited to see this initiative coming from the Ohio Attorney General’s Office,” said Rosa Beltre, executive director of the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence. “It is important to reform how rape kits are handled and tracked in the state of Ohio, despite the many challenges and difference of opinion. We collectively can choose to do nothing because of funding and road blocks, or as we have done today, we can choose to take steps within our circle of influence to make a difference. We owe this to every survivor in our state.”
The development of the program, as well as any maintenance and equipment, will be financed through Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) funding. VOCA funds, which are administered by the Ohio Attorney General’s Office, are from federal settlements, fines, and fees and must be used to enhance victim rights and services.
Throughout his career, Attorney General DeWine has been an advocate for victims of crime in Ohio. After taking office in 2011, he launched the Ohio Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit (SAK) Testing Initiative, which resulted in the testing of nearly 14,000 old rape kits that investigators had never sent to a crime lab for DNA analysis.
“This new tracking system will also help ensure that an accumulation of untested rape kits never happens in Ohio again,” said Attorney General DeWine. “Survivors expect their kits to be submitted for analysis in a timely manner, and this new program will increase accountability and transparency throughout the entire process.”
To date, Attorney General DeWine’s SAK Testing Initiative has led to 5,071 hits in the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), and hundreds of attackers have been prosecuted. In response to the success of the initiative, a new law was enacted in 2015 requiring that law enforcement agencies in Ohio submit sexual assault kit evidence to a crime laboratory within 30 days.