Today, Councilmember Charles Allen is introducing legislation to support sexual assault survivors by requiring the District to preserve all evidence collected after a sexual assault, even if the survivor chooses not to report the assault to the police.
Right now, if a victim chooses not to report the assault immediately, there is a real risk that any medical forensic evidence collected – including the testing and collection commonly known as a “rape kit” - may not be preserved. This means that survivors who later come forward may not have that evidence available for prosecutors to bring a case, and the assailant could remain free.
“We know that survivors have many reasons why they may not want to report sexual assaults to the police immediately, so preserving their ability to do so means they still can make that choice later and also ensures offenders are more likely to be held accountable,” said Councilmember Charles Allen (Ward 6), the author of the bill. He continued, “Reporting an assault to police shouldn’t be the only trigger for the government to store and maintain this important criminal evidence.”
The Ensuring Safe Forensic Evidence Handling for Sexual Assault Survivors Amendment Act of 2023:
- Requires the District to properly preserve sexual assault survivors’ medical forensic evidence - such as physical evidence recovery kits (PERKs), commonly known as “rape kits” - in cases where the survivor doesn’t report the assault to law enforcement;
- Requires the Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS) to develop and implement a protocol for receiving and storing these “anonymous kits”, including establishing a process for being notified when an anonymous kit is available, receiving them from hospitals or other jurisdictions through the mail or by hand delivery, alerting survivors about their kits’ retention, documenting the chain of custody, and maintaining anonymity of the victim. By requiring that DFS preserve kits pending a report to the police, the bill empowers survivors to choose if and when their case enters the criminal justice system; and
- Expands reporting requirements to ensure anonymous kits and other medical forensic evidence are, in fact, properly stored by the District government.
Under current law, the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) is only required to collect and deliver PERKs to DFS if an assault has been reported to MPD. However, there is no process in place for MPD to retrieve, or DFS to store, kits administered to the many survivors assaulted in the District who choose not to report (often called “anonymous kits”), whether the evidence is collected from the survivor at a DC hospital or outside of the District.
This gap in the law increases the risk that anonymous kits could be mishandled, lost, damaged, or destroyed. Should a survivor want to come forward and report the crime in the future, the evidence may no longer exist. This means that the prosecution may not move forward, the assailant’s DNA profile may never be uploaded into the national database – CODIS – that helps law enforcement link crimes together, identify criminal patterns, and close cases, and the victim never sees justice.
Additionally, if a survivor has a PERK administered in Maryland or Virginia for an assault that took place in the District, for example, the burden falls on the hospital or law enforcement in the neighboring jurisdiction or another entity like the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners to store the PERK until the assault is reported to MPD – if it is.
This lack of protocols is harmful to the survivor, who may not be told that - or where - their evidence is being held, when it will be destroyed, and the process for testing the evidence if they did choose to later report. The gap also causes interjurisdictional and legal problems for pursuing justice for the survivor, as these cases would normally be investigated by MPD and prosecuted by the US Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia, but the burden for storing and preserving evidence and the chain of custody has been placed on an entity in a different jurisdiction, or no one at all.
“Right now, there’s little coordination between jurisdictions on how to handle this evidence, and victims aren’t empowered with information about where their assault kits end up – or even if they’re destroyed. We do have a very strong law on the books to preserve evidence for survivors who report, which I led on as Chair of the Council’s Judiciary and Public Safety Committee, but that’s just not the reality in all these cases,” said Councilmember Allen. “I want to thank the D.C. Forensic Nurse Examiners and the SAVRAA Independent Expert Consultant, Elisabeth Olds, for working with us to develop the bill and for ensuring survivors receive exceptional care and are treated with dignity and respect,” said Councilmember Allen.
The bill is being co-introduced by Councilmembers Nadeau, Bonds, Frumin, Gray, Henderson, Lewis George, Parker, Pinto, Robert White, and Trayon White.