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Governor signs law speeding up rape kit testing

Posted at 6:27 PM, Mar 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-03-23 18:27:54-04
Tens of thousands of rape victims in Florida could soon see justice. Wednesday, Governor Rick Scott signed a law requiring rape kits to be tested within 120 days of submission to a state crime lab.
 
His budget also invests $10.7 million in Florida’s crime laboratories to eliminate Florida’s backlog of rape testing kits.
 
Until now, rape kits in Florida could stay untested for years. 
 
Rena Romano has lived through a real-life nightmare. She was attacked and raped in her own home.
 
"He broke into my house in the middle of the night," Romano said. "I was pinned down in my own bed."
 
Romano, like so many survivors, was scared to tell police or get a sexual assault exam.
 
"I felt like it was my fault," Romano said.
 
In Florida, even for those who do get a sexual assault exam, those rape kits have often remained untested. There are tens of thousands of untested kits throughout the state, the governor's office said.
 
“This legislation will provide thousands of women with a renewed sense of safety and closure as they heal from the horrific crime of rape," Scott said in a press release.
 
"...This legislation will also help eliminate the backlog of rape testing kits in Florida and reduce future turnaround time for processing evidence."
 
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, an organization that worked with the governor's office to draft the legislation, said this will prompt more survivors to come forward.
 
"It may take two years to go through a criminal process, but immediately, your kit is going to be validated," said Clara Reynolds, CEO of The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.
 
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay says this law will help catch more serial rapists. With more kits tested, more offender DNA samples will be in a statewide database, making it easier to flag those who re-offend.
 
In fact, Reynolds has already seen this in action in Tampa, when an untested rape kit that had been sitting in storage since 2004 was finally tested. The results led to an arrest.
 
"This was one that had been sitting in a backlog situation," Reynolds said. "...This actually led to the prosecution of a serial rapist."
 
“As a career prosecutor, I have seen first-hand the heartache caused by sexual assault, and this legislation is a significant step toward bringing more predators to justice and helping victims heal," said Attorney General Pam Bondi said in press release. 
 
For survivors, this law is a game changer.
 
"We want to move on. But without that closure, it's very difficult to do," Romano said.
 
Rena's rapist was never prosecuted. But she has hope now that others survivors will see justice.
 
The Crisis Center of Tampa Bay says that sexual assault victims can come in and get  an exam up to 120 hours after they were sexually assaulted. Visit their website for more information.