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New law aims to prevent rape kits from languishing untested

Rape kits include forensic evidence collected from alleged victims of sexual assault via a medical examination. However, many of these kits have sat dormant in crime labs and police warehouses, sometimes for years. Therefore, they have not been examined for DNA and other evidence that could be used to charge or exonerate a defendant. In some cases, women have had to file repeated extensions to prevent their rape kits from being destroyed without ever being tested.

This month, President Obama signed the Sexual Assault Survivors' Rights Act into law. Among other things, it institutes measures to ensure rape kits are properly preserved and tested. The legislation also prohibits alleged victims from being denied a rape kit examination if they haven't filed a police report and mandates that they not be charged a fee for it.

Further, alleged victims can be notified of results when their kit is tested and can ask to be notified before their rape kits are destroyed. Under the new law, they must be informed of their rights whether they pursue legal action against an alleged assailant or not.

Upon the bill's signing by the president, its sponsor, Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, said, "Beginning today, our nation's laws stand firmly on the side of survivors of sexual assault." She added that she hopes the additional rights granted by the bill will "encourage more survivors to come forward and pursue justice."

While the legislation is aimed at helping sexual assault victims, by placing more focus on the timely testing of rape kits, it can help those wrongly accused of rape by preventing accusations from hanging over their head for potentially years.

Source: Mother Jones, "Obama Just Signed a Bill of Rights for Sexual-Assault Survivors Finally," Madison Pauly, Oct. 07, 2016

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