As part of Governor Cuomo’s “Women’s Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity” campaign for 2018 along with the Administration’s FY 2019 budget, new legislation was introduced that would increase the amount of time evidence collection kits for sexual offenses should be stored. New York State currently has the shortest evidence storage time and requires hospitals to keep these kits, also called rape kits, for only 30 days. After this time, hospitals may throw them away. Instead, Governor Cuomo hopes to increase the time these kits are stored and that by doing this, the state will be able to better protect the rights of rape and assault survivors.
This short amount of time that these sexual assault evidence kits are preserved makes it nearly impossible for the victim to begin prosecution in time to use this evidence in their case before it is destroyed. The new legislation proposes to keep them either until the victim turns 19, or at least five years, whichever is longer. This increased amount of time is important, especially in younger victims, as it gives them time to decide whether they want to proceed with a criminal case. This has been a problem in New York State, as most victims do not report their assault. The kits are often essential in proving the identity of serial rapists and now they will not lack the proof they need to file a case against their attacker.
The hesitation to come forward stems from several different reasons. Sometimes victims are afraid to seek help from a doctor by getting an examination. Even if they do, they may not want to involve the police. Sometimes they are too traumatized by their assault, too scared of the criminal process, and overwhelmed by everything. If New York extends the time they have to decide on their next steps, they can focus on their own mental and physical health before they pursue justice.
“Governor Cuomo has addressed an injustice that has gone on for far too long. Victims of sexual assault should not be forced to be traumatized further,” said Jeffrey Lichtman, a criminal defense attorney. “This is common sense and I applaud the administration in seeing the prudence in keeping these kits, which are needed for proving the identity of the offender in these crimes.”
The legislation will also require that a survivor is notified if the evidence kit will be destroyed. In addition, the Governor ordered the Department of Health and Office of Victim Services (OVS) to re-issue joint guidance that all health providers must let the victim know they can receive reimbursement for a forensic rape exam. In addition, that health provider cannot bill the individual for the exam, the bill must go to the OVS. The guidance also includes required privacy practices that the victims of sexual assault must receive in their treatment and care.