New law a gain for rape victims


South Bend Tribune

A new law passed by the Indiana General Assembly is giving rape victims more of a voice and measure of control when it comes to the investigative process.

Senate Enrolled Act 424, which took effect July 1, gives victims the ability to track what happens to their rape exam kits.

“I do think this is definitely a step forward,” said Susan Tybon, president and CEO of the YWCA North Central Indiana.

Tybon said making sure women are aware of the tracking option will be important, but exactly whose responsibility that will be hasn’t been determined.

That’s a step that must be clearly defined for the new law to be effective.

In 2017, a statewide audit showed thousands of rape test kits in counties across the state had gone untested, including in St. Joseph, Elkhart, LaPorte and Marshall counties. In St. Joseph County, some sex assault kits and their related cases dated back to the 1990s.

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter apologized in 2018 for the problem, which he described as unacceptable. Since then, untested kits have been forwarded and assigned to a Special Victims Unit detective for follow up.

The new law allows victims to track what happens to their rape examination kit through a special barcode that will be scanned and updated into the system so that victims will know of their location in the testing process. They will be given login information and a unique PIN that will allow them access.

Victims will be able to tell when their kit was picked up from the hospital by police, when it is sent to a crime lab for analysis and when it is returned to storage following analysis.

Not everyone may want to take part in the process. Some, Tybon said, may be uncomfortable and not want to have a constant reminder of the pain they went through. But for those who take part, the tracking will give them a feeling of control and empowerment, realizing that they won’t have to rely on investigators to update them on where their case stands. That can be a critical part of the healing process.

Improvements are being made to a system that was clearly broken and needed to be fixed.

The addition of SEA 424 gives sex assault victims another tool in their fight to win back their lives.

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