In the United States, one in three women and one in six men are survivors of sexual violence. Sexual assault forensic examinations and sexual assault evidence kits (SAEKs) are vital to the investigation and prosecution of these sexual assaults. DNA and other evidence recovered from SAEKs are an important tool used to identify perpetrators, prove sexual contact, and corroborate the victim's testimony. Thus, timely testing of these kits are critical to maximizing the value of the evidence collected.
Unfortunately, numerous reports and investigations have revealed that across the country many SAEKs are not being submitted to the lab for testing, while others were languishing for months before being tested due to lack of resources and funding for crime labs. For years, organizations like the Joyful Heart Foundation and the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault have advocated for SAEK testing reforms. In 2014, the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President issued a report titled Rape and Sexual Assault: A Renewed Call to Action elevating the issue of untested kits and providing momentum to the nationwide effort to end the backlog. Since then, more than thirty-five states have audited their number of untested kits and made changes to the processes for collecting, tracking, and storing SAEKs in an effort to improve the number of kits tested. Maryland joined this effort in 2015 with the passage of Senate Bill 498 requiring law enforcement agencies to conduct an audit of their untested kits and report the results to the Office of the Attorney General.
That audit revealed that Maryland did not have a “backlog" of untested SAEKs that had been submitted, but not yet processed by the lab. Rather, for the vast majority of untested kits in Maryland (approximately 3700 as of January 2016), law enforcement had determined that those kits should not be submitted for testing. In January of 2017, the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) issued a report summarizing this data and recommending additional enhancements to SAEK policies and practices. Among these recommendations was the creation of a statewide oversight committee to develop uniform standards on SAEK availability, collecting, testing and storage.
The Sexual Assault Victims Resources Act of 2017 (SB734) enacted this recommendation by establishing the Maryland Sexual Assault Evidence Kit Policy and Funding Committee. The Committee is chaired by the Attorney General or his designee and is responsible for developing and disseminating best practices and recommendations regarding: SAEK testing, retention, availability and funding; stakeholder coordination; the shortage of forensic nurses; and victim notification.
Under the leadership of the Attorney General, the Committee has made significant progress in developing recommendations to advance this mandate, issuing Preliminary Recommendations for enhancing SAEK testing and supporting survivors of sexual assault in April 2018. During the 2018 legislative session, the Committee also supported HB 1124, effective June 1, 2018, which expanded the Committee's charge to include making recommendations regarding the creation and operation of a statewide sexual assault evidence collection kit tracking system. Regulations to ensure the statewide implementation of HB 255's expanded victim notification and kit retention requirements were published on July 6, 2018 for public comment.
The Committee's first annual report on its activities during the prior fiscal year is due to the Governor and the General Assembly on January 1, 2019.
200 St. Paul Place, Baltimore, MD 21202
410-576-6300 / En español 410-230-1712 / 1-888-743-0023 toll-free / TTY: Dial 7-1-1 or 800-735-2258