New state law requires rape kits be preserved for 15 years
BOSTON — Advocates for sexual assault and rape victims are hailing a new law that could help bring their attackers to justice.
Gov. Charlie Baker on Tuesday signed legislation making sure potentially vital forensic evidence remains intact and available for 15 years, the statute of limitations period for bring such cases to court.
"Trauma can have a devastating effect on a person's health and well-being. A survivor of sexual assault or rape should not be burdened with a short time frame and constant reminders from our criminal justice system, and I am pleased this new law will allow survivors to focus on healing," said Baker in prepared remarks.
The bill's lead sponsor, 3rd Berkshire District Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier, views the new law as the latest step in getting sex abuse victims to report the crime and bring an alleged attacker to court.
"One in five women are sexually assaulted, one in five of those victims report the crime," said the Pittsfield Democrat.
The new law requires local police departments and other law enforcement agencies to automatically keep and protect for 15 years the forensic evidence gathered in a sexual assault or rape investigation. Previously, such evidence was only required to be retained for a period of six months unless victims petitioned every 6 months to have it preserved.
"Changing that was something we came to a consensus in the Legislature," Farley-Bouvier said.
"In a criminal prosecution, there are few better ways to achieve a conviction than by presenting conclusive forensic evidence linking the defendant to the crime," noted Public Safety and Security Secretary Daniel Bennett.
Under the law, hospitals must inform survivors that sexual assault testing kits will be retained for a minimum of 15 years.
In addition, any evidence currently in the possession of a police department or other governmental entity must be retained for the remainder of the statute of limitations for each case.
The law requires the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory to publicize regulations regarding minimum standards for evidence retention and chain-of-custody protocol.
Contact Dick Lindsay at (413) 496-6233