The Massachusetts House of Representatives has approved a proposal offered by House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading) to overhaul the state’s policy for tracking and testing rape kits.
Adopted as an amendment to a comprehensive criminal justice reform bill, Representative Jones’ proposal calls for the creation of a rape kit tracking system within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security (EOPSS), which will be used to maintain the current location and status of all untested kits and will also allow victims of sexual assault to anonymously track their kits. The amendment was adopted on a vote of 155-0.
In addition to requiring rape kits to be kept for 50 years, the amendment also mandates an audit of all existing untested kits associated with a reported crime to measure the extent of the current backlog, which is currently unknown. In 2015, EOPSS requested reports from municipal police departments on the number of untested rape kits in their possession, but only 75 out of 351 departments responded.
“We don’t even know how many of these rape kits have gone untested, and that is unacceptable, given how crucial the evidence collected from these kits can be in helping to convict dangerous criminals and connect individuals to unsolved crimes,” said Representative Jones. “Each untested kit represents a missed opportunity to provide a sense of healing to a survivor and increased safety to a community, but today’s vote is an important step in helping survivors of sexual assault to achieve justice.”
Representative Jones’ amendment is modeled after national policy guidelines advocated for by the Joyful Heart Foundation. Thirty-two other states have already passed rape kit reform laws, while major cities like Cleveland, Detroit, and Memphis have taken action to test thousands of backlogged kits in storage.
In Detroit alone, a total of 11,341 kits were tested, resulting in 2,616 matches made on the DNA database and allowing authorities to identify 811 potential serial rapists who have committed crimes in 40 states and Washington, D.C.
The Massachusetts Senate recently approved its own criminal justice reform bill, which did not address the backlog of untested rape kits. A conference committee will soon be appointed to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill.