Gov. Mary Fallin announced on Monday the formation of the Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence to address the backlog of sexual assault forensic evidence kits, commonly known as rape kits, in the criminal justice system in Oklahoma.
The task force will conduct an audit of sexual assault forensic evidence kits in the state, pinpointing the number of untested kits, and then identify possible improvements in law enforcement training, victims’ rights and access, and the process for gathering and analyzing rape kits.
“Sexual assault is a horrific crime, and we should do everything we can to support the survivors,” said Fallin. “This new task force will examine all facets of the issue of sexual assault and sexual assault forensic evidence kits to ensure that victims are able to seek justice and begin the healing process. I thank Senator Kay Floyd for her work on this issue, and I look forward to seeing the results of the task force. April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month, so it is especially appropriate that we move forward on this important subject.”
Currently, Oklahoma does not have a statewide tracking system for rape kits nor a mandate to test all rape kits. It is estimated that only a quarter of rape kits are tested, leaving thousands of untested kits in police department warehouses across the state. In addition, current regulations are not very clear regarding when and how to destroy untested kits. The legislation that inspired this task force is Senate Bill 654.
“I am grateful for the governor’s interest in and support of this important issue,” said Floyd. “This task force will identify the number of untested kits in the possession of each law enforcement agency by means of agency audits, and it will also identify funding sources that are available to assist in financing the elimination of any backlog of untested kits. This should reduce wait times when kits are tested. I am thankful to state and local law enforcement agencies that have been a part of both identifying this need and in creating the task force, as well as Reps. Scott Biggs and John Paul Jordan for their roles in bringing this legislation to a fruitful conclusion.”
“Joyful Heart stands with the tireless advocates who have fought for justice in Oklahoma, and we applaud Governor Fallin for taking this important step toward giving survivors an opportunity at long awaited justice,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy, Joyful Heart Foundation. “When the extent of a state’s backlog of untested rape kits is revealed, real reform can begin. After law enforcement agencies account for the untested kits in their custody, communities can begin to take steps to test those kits, hold offenders accountable, and bring justice to sexual assault survivors whose cases have languished, often for years—or even decades.”
“Thank you Governor Mary Fallin for your support and leadership in turning SB 654 into an executive order,” said Danielle Tudor, a rape survivor advocate and activist from Bixby. “It represents the beginning of hope and healing for sexual assault survivors in our state.”
Task Force members shall be appointed by and serve at the pleasure of the governor, according to the governor’s executive order.
Lesley March, the chief of the attorney general’s victim services unit, or her designee;
Danielle Tudor, a survivor of sexual assault with experience with sexual assault forensic evidence kit collection;
Kathy Bell, a sexual assault nurse examiner;
Andrea Swiech, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation director of forensic science services, a person designated by the director of the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation who has expertise in the analysis of sexual assault forensic evidence kits;
Jan Peery, chief executive officer of YWCA of Oklahoma City, a person with experience seeking and applying for grants and other private funding;
Phil Cotton, the executive director of the Oklahoma Sheriff and Peace Officers Association, or his designee;
Bill Citty, chief of the Oklahoma City Police Department, or his designee;
Chuck Jordan, chief of the Tulsa Police Department, or his designee;
Ray McNair, executive director of the Oklahoma Association of Chiefs of Police, or his designee;
Bob Ravitz, an attorney from a public defenders office with criminal defense experience;
Karla Doctor, senior director of sexual violence prevention response, a sexual assault victims’ advocate from a community-based organization;
Trent Baggett, executive coordinator of the Oklahoma District Attorneys Council, or his designee;
Dawn Stover, executive director of the Native Alliance Against Violence, or her designee;
Two nonvoting members from among the members of the Senate, of which may not be from the same political party; and
Two nonvoting members from among the members of the House of Representatives, of which may not be from the same political party.
The executive order forming this task force, 2017-11, can be found here.