COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio lawmakers are mulling a change to victim’s rights law that backers said will improve sexual violence survivors’ access to the status of their rape kit.
The Ohio House last month passed its version of the state’s $88 billion budget bill, which included an amendment authored by Rep. Michele Grim (D-Toledo) to enshrine into state law the right of victims and survivors to know the status of their rape kit and request it is preserved for up to 30 years.
The kits, which are typically collected over a four- to six-hour period in a hospital’s emergency room, contain evidence relating to the alleged assault, whether it be DNA swabs or photographs of the victim’s body.
But Grim said it’s often hard to tell when the kits are received by law enforcement or analyzed at a crime lab, and Ohio law provides too few tools for victims and survivors to obtain that information. Codifying their “right to know” into state law gives them another layer of armor when requesting their kit’s status, she said.
“There’s really no timeline; at some point, it will be collected, and at some point, it will be processed,” Grim said. “This would give rape survivors a sense of closure, it’d give them the power back to know the status of their rape kit and also start the healing process sooner.”
Under Grim’s amendment, a victim or survivor can request the following information about their rape kit:
- The testing date and results of the kit
- Whether a DNA profile was obtained from the kit
- Whether a match was found to that DNA profile in state or federal databases
- The estimated destruction date of the kit
Ohioans who have undergone a rape kit would also be able to request the evidence be preserved for up to 30 years, the maximum amount of time allowed under state law, according to Grim’s amendment.
If law enforcement or another authority determines it’s necessary to destroy a rape kit, the victim or survivor must be notified at least 60 days before, Grim’s amendment states.
Syreeta Palackdharry, after a sexual assault as an Ohio State University student in June 2018, said she checked into the Wexner Medical Center about 30 hours later to undergo a forensic exam.
Although Palackdharry had access to the Ohio Attorney General’s sexual assault kit tracking system – an online database that tracks the status of individual rape kits – it often wasn’t up to date with her case, she said. And trying to convince her assigned detective to hand over information about the kit was akin to pulling teeth.
“All of it was totally out of my control in terms of what I could do because I didn’t have access to the information,” she said. “It was important to know what was happening, but it wasn’t even an option that was provided to me.”
Palackdharry, now a community outreach liaison for the Cleveland-based Beyond Healthcare, said Grim’s amendment would – if tacked onto the Senate’s version of the state’s operating budget and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine – be “really helpful in theory” by providing victims survivors more knowledge, and thus choice, to determine the pathway of their case, whether it be through a university Title IX office or within the criminal-legal system.
She said, however, that she’s interested to see how the amendment works in practice.
“Tracking all the kits is a big undertaking that people have been trying to do for a long time now, and so far, the efforts have been largely unsuccessful,” Palackdharry said.
The Ohio Senate must approve its version of the state’s operating budget by June 30.