Murphy signs law requiring survey of untested ‘rape kits’ held by police

Posted Jul 17, 2019

Gov. Phil Murphy on Wednesday signed a new law directing the state attorney general and a leading advocacy group for sexual assault survivors to team up to study how the state handles “rape kits” – the physical evidence collected by medical staff and law enforcement after a reported rape.

State authorities say New Jersey does not have a backlog of untested sexual assault examination kits, as is the case in some other states. But a report from the state auditor released last month found nearly half of the kits collected by police in New Jersey go untested for a variety of reasons.

The most common reason, the report said, was that the victim did not consent to having testing done, a key requirement for authorities to move forward.

In a signing statement, Murphy said the survey "will provide us with a clear picture of how rape kits are logged, tracked, and stored in our state and guide decisions on potential future actions.”

The survey be performed by the state Attorney General’s Office with help from the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. It will look at individual police departments’ policies for testing, logging, tracking and storing the forensic kits.

“We need to have a better understanding of why some of these kits go untested," said state Sen. Loretta Weinberg, D-Bergen, a sponsor of the bill (S1216) that became law.

The results of the survey, which will be submitted in a report to the governor and the state Legislature, "may help us develop better ways to counsel rape or assault survivors about their options, to train medical and law enforcement personnel to deal more effectively with sexual assault survivors and ultimately bring to justice more sexual predators,” Weinberg said.

The auditor’s report found there were 5,931 rape kits collected from 2014 through 2017, about 52 percent of which were ultimately submitted for testing. It also found most police departments in the state had no formal, written policies for handling them.

“The lack of policies and procedures, or the reliance on informal policies and procedures, can lead to inconsistent sexual assault investigations,” the report stated. It recommended the attorney general institute a statewide tracking system.

Patricia Teffenhart, the executive director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the bill Murphy signed Monday will provide “the rich quantitative and qualitative data we need to inform policy and practice reform in support our shared desire to best serve victims of sexual assault and hold accountable those who commit such crimes.”

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