Wyoming lawmakers tackle ‘rape kit’ reporting

WYOMING – Cheyenne Republican Senator Affie Ellis and Sundance Republican Representative Tyler Lindholm introduced Senate File 72 dealing with sexual assault biological evidence kits, commonly referred to as “rape kits.”

Senate File 72 defines “sexual assault biological evidence” to include DNA samples and other evidence gathered during a medical examination of the victim. The legislation would accomplish three objectives.

Sen. Affie Ellis

First, the bill would require law enforcement agencies to report the number of rape kits held in their possession and the status of laboratory analysis. Currently, Wyoming does not require such reporting.

Second, the bill would prevent the destruction of such evidence without a court order.  Retention policies vary between counties.

Finally, the bill would require the state, rather than local law enforcement agencies, to cover the costs of the medical exam. Currently, the state can only cover those costs if the victim decides not to report the crime; otherwise, the cost is covered by the investigating law enforcement agency.

“Nationally, estimates suggest that hundreds of thousands of rape kits have been untested prompting states to address their backlogs. Although we likely do not have a backlog in Wyoming, we simply do not know. Senate File 72 will give us that information and take action down the road, if needed,” Ellis said.

In addition to reporting requirements, Senate File 72 would ensure that sexual assault biological evidence is not destroyed.

Lindholm cited a recent case where a convicted rapist from Wyoming faced trial for sexual assaults that occurred in the 1970s. The evidence needed to connect the defendant to other crimes had not been tested until 2015.

“There is tremendous value in preserving sexual assault biological evidence,” Lindholm urged.

Erin Rumsey, a sexual assault nurse examiner at Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie agreed.  “Advances in technology, such as DNA analysis, can link crimes together, holding serial offenders accountable,” she said.

Tara Muir, Wyoming Coalition Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, added, “Senate File 72 requires the state to cover the costs of the medical exams, regardless of whether the victim decides to report the crime. Having one funding source removes obstacles for victims that some communities have faced.”

Byron Oedekoven, Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police, added, “Law enforcement agencies are committed to enforcing Wyoming’s laws on sexual assault and we are proud of the work we do, often on tight budgets.  Shifting the costs of the medical exams to the State is a step in the right direction.”

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