Kathy Welsh

Kathy Welsh

ALBANY – Governor Andrew M. Cuomo proposed new legislation to extend the storage timeline for forensic sexual offense evidence kits, or rape kits, at hospitals.

The legislation will extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved from 30 days to at least five years, or until the victim turns 19, depending on which circumstance gives a victim the longest length of time to decide whether to report the incident to police.

The proposal is part of Governor Cuomo’s 2018 Women’s Agenda for New York: Equal Rights, Equal Opportunity and the FY 2019 proposed budget. Read more about the full agenda here.

“With this action, we will address a chronic injustice, remove additional traumatic burdens on survivors, and help victims find justice,” Governor Cuomo said. “This common sense legislation supports this administration’s continued efforts to combat sexual assault and violence against women and will help make New York a safer and stronger state for all.”

The issue of collecting and storing sexual offense evidence, such as rape kits, continues to be a serious problem. New York has the nation’s shortest sexual offense evidence storage mandate, and currently requires that hospitals store kits for a minimum of only 30 days before the evidence is discarded. This limits the ability of a survivor to take time to make decisions about a case because access to evidence for prosecution may be destroyed. This can be especially challenging for younger victims who may be undecided on whether-or-not to release their kit to law enforcement.

This year, Governor Cuomo will advance new legislation to extend the length of time sexual offense evidence collection kits are preserved to at least five years, or when the victim turns 19, depending on which circumstance gives a victim the longest length of time to decide whether to report the incident to police. In addition, the legislation will mandate that a survivor be notified well before evidence is destroyed. The Governor’s proposed legislation better reflects previous action taken to lift the statute of limitation on rape and the overwhelming evidence showing rape kits help identify serial rapists. This proposal will also protect the rights of sexual assault victims while maintaining their right to choose when to report the crime to law enforcement and ensures that evidence be maintained with integrity until victims choose to have the kit tested. The legislation will build on a 2016 law signed by Governor Cuomo providing for the processing of and maintenance of sexual offense evidence kits by law enforcement.

Amid recent complaints that individuals were being improperly billed for sexual assault exams, Governor Cuomo also ordered the Department of Health and Office of Victim Services to re-issue joint guidance to state-licensed health care providers. If a victim requests that the provider bill the Office of Victim Services, that provider is prohibited by law from billing the individual for the exam, even if she or he has health insurance. Under State law, licensed health care providers must notify an individual that they can directly seek direct reimbursement from the Office of Victim Services for a forensic rape examination. This guidance also outlines additional mandatory practices for the care and treatment of victims of sexual assault, including personal privacy protections.

For more information, see https://ovs.ny.gov/forensic-rape-examination-fre-direct-reimbursement-program.

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