Justice Department Issues Standards for Handling Sexual Assault Kits

The Justice Department today released the first-ever National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits, which focus on creating a more victim-centered approach to the criminal justice process, improving training of law enforcement officers, and developing better protocols for the processing of rape kits.

The standards, developed by a Justice Department committee of law enforcement and criminal justice professionals, were mandated by the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act of 2013.

RAINN led the national campaign to pass the SAFER Act and praised the release of the standards.

“We are grateful for all the work that went into developing these model practices, and urge every law enforcement agency to follow these standards,” said Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president. “This is an important step towards fixing the problem of unexamined DNA evidence from untested rape kits, and will help thousands of victims who are waiting for justice.”

The SAFER Act passed Congress thanks to the work of its lead sponsors: Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY). Congress is expected to consider a renewal of the SAFER Act later this year.

Among the key recommendations:

  • Agencies should collaborate and involve victim advocates early in the process to create a more victim-centered approach to the criminal justice process.
  • All law enforcement personnel involved in sexual assault investigations should receive training in the neurobiology of trauma and specialized skills for interviewing sexual assault victims.
  • Jurisdictions should have a victim notification protocol for informing victims of the status of their sexual assault cases, including cases where kits are analyzed after many years.
  • Jurisdictions that do not have evidence retention laws should adopt biological evidence retention policies/protocols that are victim- centered and preserve evidence from uncharged or unsolved reported cases for 50 years or the length of the statute of limitations, whichever is greater.
  • Kits from unreported rapes should be retained for at least the statute of limitations or a maximum of 20 years.
  • States that have not already done so should consider eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual assaults.

“This is an important moment in the fight to address sexual violence, which affects nearly every family in America,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president of public policy. “As I travel the country and talk to stakeholders about the challenges in preventing and addressing backlogs, they routinely request just the type of expert tips and advice this report provides.”

Since the early 2000s, technological advances, including the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, have increased the use and value of DNA evidence in identifying perpetrators of crimes. “RAINN has advocated tirelessly for reforms to ensure kits are tested in a timely manner,” said O’Connor. “Behind every rape kit is a survivor – we owe it to them to get this right.”

Learn more about RAINN’s work to maximize the potential of forensic DNA to solve sex crimes and visit the Action Center to all for action to address the rape kit backlog.