New legislation has been prpopsed to extend the storage timeline for forensic sexual offense evidence kits, or rape kits, at hospitals. The legislation will extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved from 30 days to at least five years, or until the victim turns 19, depending on which circumstance gives a victim the longest length of time to decide whether to report the incident to police. The proposal is part of Governor Cuomo's 2018 Women's Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity and the FY 2019 proposed budget. Read more about the full agenda here.
"With this action, we will address a chronic injustice, remove additional traumatic burdens on survivors, and help victims find justice," Governor Andrew Cuomo said. "This common sense legislation supports this administration's continued efforts to combat sexual assault and violence against women and will help make New York a safer and stronger state for all."
Lieutenant Governor and Chair, NY Women's Suffrage Commission, Kathy Hochul said, "Whether it's preventing sexual assault on college campuses, focusing on prevention and advocacy, or eliminating barriers to justice, this administration has proven it is serious about changing the culture that enables sexism and violence against women. By extending the storage timeline for rape kit preservation, we are once again providing victims with the opportunity to find the justice they have been denied for too long. New York has resoundingly said enough is enough and we are putting our foot down when it comes to sexual assault."
Secretary to the Governor and Chair, New York State Council on Women and Girls, Melissa DeRosa said, "2017 will go down in history as the year when women spoke up and drew a line in the sand, and 2018 will be the year that society needs to respond. With this commonsense legislation, Governor Cuomo once again stands with women to advance their equality, opportunity, and safety. Today we say that no victim should suffer the added pain of lacking the proof they need to bring their case. We have your back, and we will change this law this year."
The issue of collecting and storing sexual offense evidence, such as rape kits, continues to be a serious problem. New York has the nation's shortest sexual offense evidence storage mandate, and currently requires that hospitals store kits for a minimum of only 30 days before the evidence is discarded. This limits the ability of a survivor to take time to make decisions about a case because access to evidence for prosecution may be destroyed. This can be especially challenging for younger victims who may be undecided on whether-or-not to release their kit to law enforcement.
This year, Governor Cuomo will advance new legislation to extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved to at least five years, or when the victim turns 19, depending on which circumstance gives a victim the longest length of time to decide whether to report the incident to police. In addition, the legislation will mandate that a survivor be notified well before evidence is destroyed. The Governor's proposed legislation better reflects previous action taken to lift the statute of limitation on rape and the overwhelming evidence showing rape kits help identify serial rapists. This proposal will also protect the rights of sexual assault victims while maintaining their right to choose when to report the crime to law enforcement and ensures that evidence be maintained with integrity until victims choose to have the kit tested. The legislation will build on a 2016 law signed by Governor Cuomo providing for the processing of and maintenance of sexual offense evidence kits by law enforcement.
Office of Victim Services Director Elizabeth Cronin said, "We know that a majority of victims do not report their sexual assault: Some are afraid to seek medical help, while those who do undergo a forensic rape exam may be unsure about notifying the police because they are traumatized and scared about what may come next. Those concerns are completely understandable. This change will give victims additional time to make that decision and address their emotional and physical well-being, which may result in them being more willing to contact law enforcement and seek justice."
New York State Coalition Against Sexual Assault Executive Director Joanne Zannoni said, "Rape is a traumatic experience, and victims often face reactions that are overwhelming in the immediate aftermath. Thirty days is not enough time for many victims to make decisions about next steps. By extending the retention of sex offense evidence, we strengthen victims' ability to pursue the options that best meet their needs.
Amid recent complaints that individuals were being improperly billed for sexual assault exams, Governor Cuomo also ordered the Department of Health and Office of Victim Services to re-issue joint guidance to state-licensed health care providers. If a victim requests that the provider bill the Office of Victim Services, that provider is prohibited by law from billing the individual for the exam, even if she or he has health insurance. Under State law, licensed health care providers must notify an individual that they can directly seek direct reimbursement from the Office of Victim Services for a forensic rape examination. This guidance also outlines additional mandatory practices for the care and treatment of victims of sexual assault, including personal privacy protections. Additional information is available here.
Last week Governor Cuomo unveiled the full 2018 Women's Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity and released the Report on the Status of New York Women and Girls: 2018 Outlook. With 30 proposals, the Agenda will work to advance equality and promote opportunity in women and girls' health, safety, workplace, and family life. Members of Governor Cuomo's administration crisscrossed the State to hear the concerns of New York women and to introduce a responsive agenda. The full Report on the Status of New York Women and Girls: 2018 Outlook reflects the feedback, voices and opinions of women statewide and is available here.
Source: Press Office, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo