TRENTON – Governor Phil Murphy today signed S1216 into law, which will require the Attorney General to conduct a survey of untested sexual assault examination kits. The law mandates the survey to be summarized in a report that will be submitted to the Governor and the Legislature.
“Survivors of rape and sexual assault deserve to know that their cases are treated with the utmost importance and diligence,” said Governor Phil Murphy. “The survey that this law mandates will provide us with a clear picture of how rape kits are logged, tracked, and stored in our state and guide decisions on potential future actions.”
“A measure like this, which is designed to give us a more thorough understanding of how Sexual Assault Forensic Examination (SAFE) kits are being handled by law enforcement agencies throughout the State, will allow New Jersey to remain at the forefront of nationwide best practices and standards in our efforts to ensure that victims of sexual assault receive the services and respect they deserve, and that their cases are handled in accordance with best practices by law enforcement,” said Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal. “In exercising this authority, we will, as always, be guided by a clear understanding that there can be no compromising of a victim's right to confidentiality or right to make the decision about involving law enforcement. In November, my office issued updated AG Standards for Providing Services to Victims of Sexual Assault that were formulated in collaboration with law enforcement, healthcare professionals, service providers, the Courts, and victim advocates, including the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NJCASA). Those standards require every county to adopt formal policies and procedures for handling of SAFE Kits, encompassing preservation, retention, reporting and tracking. These surveys will provide useful information to help us assess the success of these efforts, and identify any areas where there may be a need for improvement.”
S1216 requires the Attorney General, in consultation with the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault, to conduct a survey concerning sexual assault examination kits in the possession of law enforcement agencies in this State that have not been submitted to a laboratory approved by the Attorney General for serology or DNA testing.
The survey will include questions concerning agency policies and procedures governing the submission of sexual assault examination kits to an approved forensic laboratory for testing, including specific submission criteria, timelines, and victim notifications; agency policies and procedures for logging, tracking, and storing sexual assault examination kits; descriptive, statistical, and other relevant information about the sexual assault examination kits currently in the agency’s possession; and any other information the Attorney General deems appropriate. Upon conclusion of the survey, the Attorney General will be required to submit a report to the Governor and the Legislature.
Primary sponsors of the bill include Senate President Steve Sweeney, Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg, and Assemblymembers Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Nancy Pinkin, and Nancy Munoz.
“The study of the untested kits would help to get clarity on the policies and procedures that regulate the testing and what the state can do to empower victims who might be reluctant to report these crimes,” said Senator Steve Sweeney. “Having this information and understanding the process can help ensure that survivors of sexual violence get justice and are treated with respect and dignity in the process.”
“It can be difficult for sexual assault survivors to come forward and report their perpetrators,” said Senator Loretta Weinberg. “We need to have a better understanding of why some of these kits go untested. The data gained may help us develop better ways to counsel rape or assault survivors about their options, to train medical and law enforcement personnel to deal more effectively with sexual assault survivors and ultimately bring to justice more sexual predators.”
“Now more than ever we see how difficult it is for victims to come forward and report their perpetrators. It is especially difficult for victims who have to wait for the results of their test and for action to be taken due to a backlog,” said Assemblywoman Valerie Vainieri Huttle. “Having this information, understanding the process and figuring out a way to move forward with testing can help ensure victims of sexual violence get justice, and that their perpetrators are held accountable.”
“This survey can help identify any issues and resources that may be needed to ensure that victims are less reluctant to report these crimes to law enforcement,” said Assemblywoman Nancy Pinkin. “We must do everything in our power to ensure victims are safe and to bring justice for the heinous crimes committed against them.”
“Thanks to the recent findings from the state auditor, we have a better understanding of the magnitude of untested rape kits in the state, but there is more we need to know,” said Assemblywoman Nancy F. Munoz. “More knowledge equals better policy. We need to ensure that we are doing everything we can to protect and support victims of sexual violence.”
“The bill signed into law today will allow New Jersey to collect the rich quantitative and qualitative data we need to inform policy and practice reform in support our shared desire to best serve victims of sexual assault and hold accountable those who commit such crimes,” said Patricia Teffenhart, Executive Director of the New Jersey Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “A recent report from the Office of the State Auditor recently found ‘deficiencies concerning the tracking of Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Kits, as well as inconsistent policies and procedures’ from law enforcement in collecting and processing rape kits. It’s clear that we have work to do to and we look forward to working with the Office of the Attorney General in support of our shared vision of a safer, more equitable New Jersey.”