CHICAGO, Aug. 5, 2015 /PRNewswire/ -- Today, TEST400K commended Governor Bruce Rauner for signing HB369, a measure that will delay the current 10-year statute of limitations in sexual assault cases pending completion of a rape kit test, and ensure that rape victims get the justice they deserve despite historic rape kit testing backlogs. The bill was championed in the legislature by Senator Michael Noland and Rep. Deb Conroy.
"On behalf of TEST400K and sexual assault victims across our nation, we commend Governor Rauner for making this historic statute of limitations reform bill the law in Illinois. Because of the Governor's leadership and the relentless support of our bill sponsors, Senator Mike Noland and Rep. Deb Conroy, sexual assault victims impacted by the rape kit backlog are now one step closer to getting the justice they deserve," said TEST400K Co-Founder Julie Smolyansky, who is also the CEO of Lifeway Foods, a certified rape crisis counselor and an executive producer of "Hunting Ground," a documentary about campus sexual assault.
"Due to unacceptable rape kit testing backlogs and poor handling of evidence across our nation, dangerous sexual predators are running out the statute of limitations and roaming free in our communities – putting us all at risk. This bill will help ensure that justice delayed is not justice denied for victims, such as Rosa Pickett," she added. "Furthermore, we must not forget that, despite this important milestone, there is still far more work to do to eradicate the backlog of untested rape kits in Illinois and across our nation."
Rosa Pickett was 17-years-old when she was brutally raped in Robbins, Illinois in 1977. Despite providing a rape kit to local police, the evidence was misplaced and the statute of limitations ran out before the offender could be prosecuted for her assault. Historic backlogs in rape kit testing at the Illinois State Police have presented similar challenges for other victims that would be addressed by the bill.
"I am so grateful for all of the support that this bill has received, and look forward to talking to the Governor some day about these issues," said Pickett during a news conference in Springfield after the bill passed the House and Senate earlier this year. "It may be hard for people that have never been victims to understand, but my assault is always in the back of my head and will never go away, especially because my rapist is still out there and I am sure I was not his only victim. The fact that this bill could become law and protect another young person makes me happier than I can explain. This support sends a message to rape victims that they don't have to be afraid, they can come forth and feel safe saying they have been a victim of rape and be hopeful that justice will prevail." Pickett has become an outspoken advocate on behalf of statute of limitations and rape kit testing reform, and now serves on the Advisory Board of TEST400K.
"Rosa Pickett is just one case of justice being denied to victims of sexual assault. Evidence existed, evidence was gathered and yet evidence went untested. With the Governor's signature, we now hope that we can prevent this type of injustice from ever happening again," said State Senator Michael Noland (D-Elgin). "As the Senate sponsor, I would be remiss if I did not thank Rosa and TEST400K, as it is due to their combined efforts that we will help ensure sexual predators no longer escape the justice they deserve nor the victims lose their right for the closure they deserve."
Nationally, the rape kit backlog is estimated to have reached at least 400,000, with some originating from rapes that took place as far back as 1978. This backlog is not only a critical public safety issue as it relates to ensuring justice for the victims, but to help identify and remove serial rapists from our nation's communities. While Illinois is only one of three states in the nation that requires timely submission/testing of rape kits, compliance is subject to appropriations. Despite the fact that the Illinois State Police reported eliminating the backlog of 4,000 untested rape kits back in December 2013 and that there were 927 matches on the FBI national system to other known felons, a lack of resources and efficiencies throughout the system have already resulted in a re-escalation of the backlog and extensive wait times estimated to be as much as one year for testing and as many as 1,600 rape kits. This year, the City of Detroit announced that their effort to eliminate a backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits has already revealed 188 serial rapists that had moved on to commit assaults in at least 23 other states, and 945 matches on the FBI system among only the first 2,000 tests.
TEST400K was founded by Smolyansky and Jason Burdeen in 2013 for the purposes of fighting for complete elimination of an estimated national backlog of 400,000 rape kits, for the passage of common sense legislation ensuring justice for all sexual assault victims and to build awareness of the promise of advanced technologies to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of rape kit testing systems that respect the rights of victims. The organization partners with other leading national organizations, including Natasha's Justice and End the Backlog.