Atlanta, GA, December 5, 2016 – by Trey Benton – The Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act, a.k.a. The Rape Kit Bill (SB 304), was passed in the final minutes of the 2016 Legislative Session and was signed into law by Georgia Governor Nathan Deal on April 26, 2016. This important legislation was called a huge victory for the efforts of pursuing justice for victims of sexual assault.
Since Gov. Deal placed his signature on the Bill, some 3,006 sexual assault kits have been received by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s (GBI) Division of Forensic Sciences for processing, with 1,572 having been tested (this includes kits received prior), according to a December 1st report.
The law, authored by State Representative Scott Holcomb (D-81) in the House, was eventually championed through the Senate by Senator Elena Parent (D-SD42) after it was blocked by Senator Renee Unterman (R-SD45) who Chairs the Health and Human Services Committee. Holcomb and Parent were able to outmaneuver Unterman when Senate Bill 304, originally dealing with guns and mental health, was literally gutted to become the vehicle for Holcomb’s rape test kit language. It passed the Senate 55-1, and the House unanimously.
“We are making progress on bringing justice to thousands of Georgians who were victims of sexual violence,” said Rep. Holcomb. “The process that we put into place is working, and I expect prosecutions to start soon. I also know that the tests are identifying repeat offenders and it must be our priority to catch and prosecute serial rapists.”
The GBI Crime Laboratory said in the report they received approximately 550 new cases for DNA analysis each month. Of those, 150-170 are sexual assault kits collected as part of current investigations.
“The thousands of untested rape kits revealed demonstrate how critically important this legislation was,” Sen. Parent told The Post. “While we have a long way to go to clear this backlog, it’s gratifying to know that justice for victims is finally being pursued.”
George Herrin, Jr., Ph.D., Deputy Director of GBI’s Division of Forensic Sciences says the GBI Crime Laboratory prioritizes the analysis of sexual assault kits while also performing DNA analysis on homicides and other cases needed for investigative and prosecution purposes.
The GBI Crime Lab also has sexual assault evidence submitted prior to 1999 in storage on some 5,400 cases. “At the time of submission of these cases, required samples were not included to permit testing of these cases,” reports Herrin. “These cases will be researched to determine if DNA analysis is needed using modern technology.”
A grant that provides funding for outsourcing sexual assault kit testing to a private laboratory made possible through the efforts of the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council (CJCC) and funded by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, is proving to allow the GBI Crime Laboratory to reduce the backlog of untested kits in the State.
The GBI reports that since May of 2016, 50 sexual assault kits each month have been outsourced. Attempts to outsource more cases have been hindered, however, due to capacity issues at the private laboratories capable of performing this type of analysis.
“We required the report because we needed the data to make budgeting decisions. We need to continue to work hard to clear the backlog, and we need more resources,” said Holcomb. “This is critically important and essential to public safety.”