Lawmakers file bills to address handling of state’s rape kits, how officers should best respond to reported sexual assaults

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Rep. Monroe Nichols (left) and Sen. Kay Floyd.
Two lawmakers have filed several bills aiming to address how the state handles rape kits and how law enforcement should respond to reported attacks.

Sen. Kay Floyd, D-Oklahoma City, filed three bills and Rep. Monroe Nichols, D-Tulsa, filed one bill ahead of the legislative session.

Floyd is a member of the task force leading the effort to reform how Oklahoma agencies handle rape kits. Former Gov. Mary Fallin created the 17-member task force through an executive order in 2017 and the group oversaw a statewide audit into untested rape kits that found more than 7,200 kits in about 300 agencies.

One of the leading reasons kits weren’t tested, the audit found, was because of a reported lack of victim cooperation.

Sexual assault evidence kits, also called rape kits, can preserve DNA evidence from a sexual assault and provides victims with important medical care, such as STI prevention medication. The exam, often performed by a specially trained nurse, can take several hours.

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The kits can also increase the likelihood of the perpetrator being prosecuted. Victims are not required to report their assault to police in order to get a sexual assault forensic exam.

Floyd’s legislation stems from the task force’s recommendations.

Floyd’s Senate Bill 967 would direct the Oklahoma Bureau of Investigation to implement a statewide electronic tracking system for rape kits. Untested kits identified in the statewide audit would also be entered into the system.

The system, which would be accessible to victims, would track the location of kits, whether the kit has been processed, and whether it has been destroyed.

The bill would require law enforcement, forensic laboratories and medical providers to participate.

A Tulsa Police Department sexual assault evidence collection kit. Photo courtesy NewsOn6

SB 975 would require all law enforcement agencies to use the same type of rape kit. In the past, three types of kits were used. OSBI issues kits to every county, and the Tulsa Police Department and Oklahoma City Police Department each have their own kit.

In a report issued last year, task force members found that a standardized kit would ease the development of the tracking system and could cut costs.

The bill would also:

  • Require agencies to submit a kit for testing within 20 days of receiving it if the victim made a report to law enforcement or requested it to be processed;
  • Direct medical professionals and law enforcement to tell the victim the purpose of the kit and their right to have it tested; and
  • Require agencies to keep kits for not less than 50 years or for the length of the statute of limitations for the alleged crime — whichever is longer.

The bill would also require OSBI and other forensic labs — in partnership with the task force — to implement a priority protocol for the processing of the state’s untested kits, which would include considerations such as:

  • Whether the statute of limitations has passed;
  • Whether the offender is a stranger to the victim; and
  • A process to ID cases where the victim was or is participating in the criminal justice process and has consented to the testing of the kit.

As far as the untested kits identified in the statewide audit, kits would not be tested when the victim has not reported to law enforcement, if the victim requested the kit to not be tested, or when the perpetrator has been convicted and his or her DNA is already in a federal database.

If passed, the priority protocol would go into effect immediately.

Another bill, SB 971, would require law enforcement officers to complete continuing education through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training on how to best respond to reports of sexual assault.

Currently, the law requires officers complete 25 hours of continuing law enforcement training each year. The proposed bill would amend the law to require two of those hours to be on sexual assault issues, including where to take victims and how to handle sexual assault reports.

Attorney General Mike Hunter, whose office oversees the task force, said in a statement to The Frontier that the legislation would help reduce the number of untested kits in the state and provide law enforcement with more training when responding to sexual assaults.

“On behalf of the members of the task force, I commend Sen. Floyd for her leadership in filing these bills and for her continued work on this issue,” Hunter said. “We also appreciate Rep. Jon Echols and Sen. Stephanie Bice, who have agreed to run the legislation in their respective chambers.”

Floyd said the process of identifying issues with the state’s untested rape kits, as well as pinpointing best practices for responding to reports of sexual assault, has come a long way over the last two years.

It’s just been very gratifying to see everyone at the table and working together and the way the task force works together to come up with recommendations,” Floyd said. “I don’t think any of us know how many people are going to helped with it.”

‘This year seems to be a year … of getting it done’

Meanwhile, Nichols’ proposal, House Bill 1319, would require health care professionals to make a report to law enforcement within 24 hours of a sexual assault victim requesting it.

The bill would require law enforcement agencies to:

  • Submit rape kits for processing within 15 days
  • Have at least 75 percent of its previously untested rape kits analyzed by Nov. 1, 2020, and all analyzed by June 30, 2021
  • Notify the victim of the rape kit’s submission, progress of testing, whether there was a DNA match and if the kit is destroyed

The bill also would require law enforcement agencies to report quarterly data to the OSBI on reported sexual assaults in their jurisdictions, statistics on rape kits and the number of charges filed and convictions obtained in sexual assault cases.

Nichols has filed similar bills over the last couple of years, but they weren’t successful. Nichols said he’s more optimistic this time around given the task force’s work on identifying issues and the attention brought to the state’s untested rape kits. He believes the state has made strides, and there is more bipartisan support.

“This year seems to be a year, without question, of getting it done,” Nichols said. 

He said he spent a “tremendous” amount of time studying the task force’s recommendations and did an interim study last fall that examined funding options to process rape kits and other best practices. He said Oklahoma could become a national model in best practices.

“Where we were two years ago, I’m incredibly pleased with where we are today,” Nichols said. “I didn’t know if we’d get this far. I think we’re going to do something that’s really important to people.”

Lawmakers have filed more than 2,800 bills. The Legislature convenes on Feb. 4.

Related reading: 

Agency looking for new way to pay for victims’ sexual assault exams amid concerns of unsteady funding

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Kassie McClung

Staff writer

Kassie McClung joined The Frontier in May 2016. She reports on health, criminal justice and other state issues. Kassie holds a bachelors degree in multimedia journalism from Oklahoma State University. She likes dogs, maps and data. She can be reached at Kassie@readfrontier.com or 918-935-1044. Follow her on Twitter @KassieMcClung.
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