SACRAMENTO (KPIX 5) — Justice has been delayed for thousands of rape victims because their cases are literally sitting on a shelf.
There are thousands of untested rape kits in California. It’s evidence, that could put rapists behind bars but right now, there’s no way to track the massive backlog.
How many, where and why, no one knows, but Tuesday, in a Senate Public Safety Committee hearing, a proposal to change that got one step closer to becoming law.
“They were saying it was consensual, but it was not. And they were kind of just laughing about it,” said Maria, a rape victim.
In 2012, Maria was volunteering at a dance competition in Oakland. One minute she was with her friends, the next, she woke up in a hotel room with strangers.
Her rapists were already gone.
One of the strangers helped Maria back to her friends, who called 911. An ambulance took her to the hospital for a rape kit exam.
“I broke down there, when that happened, when they started taking pictures,” she says. “That was…that was when it hit me.”
A detective first told her it would take one year to test the kit, then two years, then no one would return her calls.
“I don’t know if it was ever tested,” she says.
Maria is not alone.
“There are thousands of women who don’t have answers on what happened to their rape kit,” says Democratic Assemblyman David Chiu of San Francisco. “And this is unacceptable. This is absolutely unacceptable.”
He says we don’t actually know how may untested rape kits are in California right now.
Chiu has introduced a bill, AB41, that would help to end the secrecy surrounding rape kits.
“It directs every law enforcement agency that would collect a rape kit to tell us how many kits have they collected, and how many of those kits are untested, and for those kits that are untested, tell us a simple answer: why,” says Chiu.
Under the law, victims would also get an ID number to track their own kits. The bill has widespread support, with both Republican and Democrat sponsors and only one single on-the-record opponent: The California Sheriff’s Association.
The Association says it’s a fiscal concern, a workload concern and it’s in the context of many other mandates that have been levied upon law enforcement in the past few years in terms of reporting data.
KPIX 5 caught up with Cory Salzillo from the Sheriff’s Association and asked him how much it would cost.
“It’s not a matter that we’ve identified a particular to any particular county,” he says. “It’s an ongoing mandate that grows on top of other mandates that the legislature has imposed on law enforcement.”
According to Salzillo, the Sheriff’s Association has no idea how many rape kits are untested and no idea what AB 41 would cost, but whatever it is, they’re sure it’s too much.
After years of watching the Sheriff’s successfully oppose rape kit reform, Senator Hannah-Beth Jackson has had enough.
“I don’t ever want to see law enforcement come in here again and say that they don’t have the resources to do this,” she says.
Tuesday, the Senate Public Safety Committee voted unanimously to pass the bill.
“The victims out there are just like any other victims…just because it’s a process that happens after the fact doesn’t make it any less important. They need the same justice as anyone else gets,” says Maria.
AB41 is not the first time lawmakers have attempted to require rape kit reporting – in 2015 and 2016 similar bills got unanimous support and then died in the Senate Appropriations Committee.