Idaho moves to create system to collect, track rape evidence
Mar. 16, 2016
BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Idaho lawmakers signed off on a statewide system for collecting and tracking DNA evidence of sexual assault Tuesday, despite objections from a rural sheriff who said they should stay out of it because many rape accusations are false.
The measure would create standards on how medical clinics use rape kits to collect fluids after a suspected sexual assault. It also would implement a timeline if law enforcement agencies decide to send the evidence to a state forensic laboratory for testing, unless the victim requests otherwise.
The agencies would need approval from their county prosecutor if they don't think a rape kit should be tested. The legislation now heads to Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, who has not said whether he will sign it into law.
"This bill sends a clear message that victims are to be taken seriously," said Sen. Maryanne Jordan, a Democrat from Boise. "The DNA evidence in these kits can be a powerful tool in solving these crimes."
However, Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland told Idaho Falls TV station KIDK the measure is unnecessary and said lawmakers need to allow officers to do their jobs.
"They need to let us decide if we're going to send the kit and when we send the kits in," Rowland said. "Because the majority of our rapes — not to say that we don't have rapes, we do — but the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex."
Such claims are part of a larger problem of law enforcement harboring unfair skepticism of rape victims, said Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation.
"Each one of these kits represents a survivor," she said. "We need to take their claim seriously, treat them with respect, and use the evidence."
Now, law enforcement agencies are in charge of determining if a kit should be tested. That has led to a wide disparity between agencies on how many kits are sent to the state lab for analysis.
Rep. Melissa Wintrow, a Boise Democrat who introduced the bill, said the sheriff's remarks were harmful to women.
"Many times people are focused on a woman's behavior, and the victim's response," she said, "when we should be thinking about what are we teaching men in this society. What are we teaching young boys and men about how we should not initiate or cross any physical boundary without consent."
Rape kits contain samples of semen, saliva or blood taken from a victim during an invasive examination that can last up to six hours.
Though it's not as big of an issue in Idaho, states across the U.S. have been dealing with backlogs of untested rape kits and finding comprehensive ways to test and track the kits so they don't end up unused on a shelf. In September, federal officials said an estimated 70,000 rape kits sitting in laboratories and evidence collection rooms across the country would be tested with a combined $79 million in federal and New York City funds.
Also Tuesday, lawmakers debated a separate proposal to eliminate a provision of Idaho's sexual assault statute that requires people who say they were raped to prove they resisted the attack. The measure would make allowances for cases when a victim believes resistance would be futile or lead to further harm.
Republican Rep. Ron Nate of Rexburg voiced concern that removing the so-called resistance requirement would lead to false convictions.
"I still worry about the equal protection for those who are accused of rape," he said.
Associated Press writer Kathryn Haake contributed to this report.