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Republican Senator Blocks Rape Kit Testing Bill

 

State Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford).

In the last days of Georgia’s legislative session, Sen. Renee Unterman (R-Buford) is blockading legislation that could help prevent the backlog of Georgia rape kits from building up again.

The Pursuing Justice for Rape Victims Act (House Bill 827) is a bipartisan effort that would require physical evidence in sexual assault cases to be sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation within 30 days of collection. Authored by Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) and co-sponsored by Rep. Regina Quick (R-Athens), the bill passed the House by a 160–0 vote in February. 

Unterman chairs the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, which would be holding hearings on the bill—except Unterman claims that the rape kit backlog has been addressed, and she does not seem concerned about preventing a recurrence. (Unterman is also the sponsor of a bill to provide taxpayer funding for faith-based “crisis pregnancy centers” that pose as abortion clinics.)

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation, Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault, Grady Health System and Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard are among those who support the bill. 

Untested rape kits are an ongoing problem in Georgia and nationwide.

When Detroit attorney Kym Worthy uncovered a nest of untested sexual assault evidence, she knew the city did not have resources to process them. The 11,341 forgotten rape kits she found spanned decades. On average, it costs $1,500 to process a rape kit. That would have been $17 million on testing alone. She spent years applying for grants, negotiating costs and appealing to businesswomen in her community for support, eventually reaching Joanna Cline, chief executive director of a wall decal-manufacturer and seller. Cline contacted 200 other business leaders, spurring the formation of Enough SAID (Sexual Assault in Detroit). Since 2009, Worthy’s team has identified 652 suspected serial rapists and led legal efforts that convicted 27.

In 2015, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported that Grady Memorial Hospital had not provided the Georgia Bureau of Investigation 1,400 rape kits, due to a misunderstanding of federal law governing privacy. The AJC is now reporting that the majority of the survivors whose evidence the hospital was holding had provided written request that the kits be turned over to the police. 

Soon after the news broke, Athens-Clarke County police found 159 untested kits dating back to 1993. Channel 46 reported that Cobb County police discovered 365 kits, some dating back to the 1970s.

According to End the Backlog, a program tracking rape kit backlogs across the country, the backlog in Georgia has not been fully counted. A partial count in 2015 revealed 3,108 untested kits. Without regulations dictating when and how kits are to be counted and tested, there is no legal guard to prevent this number from swelling again.

The only reason a rape kit should go untested is at the request of the survivor. Serial rapists should not walk free, and survivors should not live without their wishes honored.