Rape Survivors Protection Act Advances In Tennessee House

Photo: Rape Kit

Photo Credit: Public Domain

Published April 5, 2021

The Tennessee Conservative Staff –

Sexual assault survivors may soon be able to track their submitted rape kits if House Bill 0039 makes its way through the legislature.

Tennessee Capitol Building in Nashville

Also known as the Jim Coley Rape Survivors Protection Act, HB 0039 made its way through the Criminal Justice Committee and has now been placed on the Finance, Ways, and Means Subcommittee calendar for April 7.

The bill is sponsored by Representative Bob Freeman, a Democrat from Nashville.

If the bill passes, a kit-tracking system would be created so both law enforcement officials and sexual assault victims can monitor submitted rape kits as they travel through processing.

The bill also specifies that a rape victim would be allowed to request that a law enforcement officer of the gender of the victim’s choice would take the individual’s statement.

Representative Freeman released a statement last Wednesday.

“Today marks a positive step forward on the path to recovery for victims of rape and sexual assault here in Tennessee. I am proud to sponsor this legislation on behalf of the 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 7 boys who will be impacted by child sexual abuse before they turn 18. Today, with broad bipartisan support, we sent a clear message to victims that their voices have been heard and the State of Tennessee will handle their cases in a timely and transparent way.”

In 2014, rape kit tracking became a national concern after thousands of untested kits were found in Memphis.

According to Kathy Walsh, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition to End Domestic and Sexual Violence, several of Tennessee’s metropolitan areas had a similar problem.

“Memphis had about 12,000 untested kits,” “The next closest jurisdiction to that was Knoxville with 400 and Nashville with 200.”

Representative Freeman hopes to change that with HB 0039 by giving some level of control back to survivors through kit tracking.

“The survivor will be able to track at every moment the different steps as their kit works its way through the process,” said Freeman. “It gives them power to control one thing in this process and that is knowing that the kit has been tested and advocating appropriately for themselves.”

A federal grant program will be providing the electronic tracking system at no cost to the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation.

Walsh also acknowledged the various changes the bill would be making to the process.

“It’s making some changes in the system to make it quicker to move this process along a little quicker and a little more smoothly,” stated Walsh.

The bill will require hospitals to notify local law enforcement of the collected rape kit within 24 hours, and the kit must be picked up within seven days. Law enforcement then has 45 days to get the kits to TBI. This is 15 days sooner than the currently required 60-day window.

HB 0039 will also require law enforcement to store a kit for ten years instead of being able to dispose of it in three years.

The city of Memphis already uses electronic tracking of rape kits. The bill would make this a statewide policy.

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