New laws in place to clear and prevent backlogs of untested rape kits

December 22, 2021

Several Midwestern states enacted laws in 2021 to process backlogs of sexual assault evidence kits — so-called “rape kits” — and/or prevent backlogs from building anew.

Kit tracking systems were created in Iowa (HF 426), North Dakota (SB 2281) and Wisconsin (SB 71 and SB 94). Ohio’s fiscal year 2022 budget allocates up to $1 million to state and local law enforcement agencies to handle sexual assault kits. In addition, a new Illinois law (HB 1739) requires the collectors of evidence (medical facilities and law enforcement agencies) from a sexual assault survivor to notify him or her about the state’s existing tracking system.

Wisconsin’s new laws require annual reports on law enforcement compliance and create civil and criminal immunity for health care professionals conducting consensual or court-ordered sexual assault forensic exams. North Dakota is now requiring annual reports on tested and untested kits; information will be posted on the attorney general’s website.

In 2021, Iowa completed a six-year effort, the Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, to find and test all untested kits collected before April 2015. As a result of the initiative, Attorney General Tom Miller says, 1,606 kits had been tested, resulting in four new criminal charges and two new convictions.

The Joyful Heart Foundation lists six essential state actions to end backlogs:

1) annual statewide inventories to identify untested sexual assault evidence kits;

2) mandatory submission and testing of backlogged kits;

3) mandatory submission and testing of newly collected kits;

4) an electronic tracking system for victims to follow the status of their kits;

5) a right for victims to be informed about the status of their kits; and

6) appropriation of adequate state funding to implement these changes.