New Tracking System for Florida Rape Kits
January 22, 2023 Don Pumphrey, Jr. Criminal Defense, News & Announcements, Sex Crimes Social Share
Florida Legislature passed a law in 2021 to implement tracking systems for rape kits, after a 2015 study revealed that over 13,000 rape kits had gone untested in the state. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) has since cleared the backlog with additional funding and is now only months away from showcasing the new tracking system.
This article will provide information on rape kits, the process of receiving a sexual assault forensic exam, and how Gail’s Law will work now that it has been passed as a law.
What is a Rape Kit?
When an individual experiences sexual assault or sexual battery, it is recommended that they receive a sexual assault forensic exam. A trained healthcare provider will then give the sexual assault victim a rape kit or a rape test kit.
A rape kit is a package of items for gathering and preserving physical evidence that follows a sexual assault allegation. Rape kits can vary by location, but typically include any of the following items:
- Bags/sheets for collecting evidence
- Swabs for collecting fluids from the lips, cheeks, thighs, vagina, anus, or buttocks
- Sterile urine collection containers
- Device to collect blood
- Comb to collect hair off the victim’s body
- Self-sealing envelopes to store the victim’s clothes, body and pubic hair, and blood samples
- Nail pick for scraping underneath nails
During a sexual assault investigation, DNA evidence can be found at the crime scene, or collected on the victim’s body, clothes, or other personal belongings. Due to this, it is extremely important for victims of sexual assault to receive medical care to preserve any possible evidence. When preparing for a sexual assault forensic exam, it is advised to avoid any of the following if possible:
- Using the restroom
- Changing clothes
- Combing hair
- Cleaning up the crime scene
Sexual assault is an extremely traumatic experience. Even if the victim completes any of the listed steps above prior to getting examined, they can still have a rape kit tested by a healthcare provider. In most cases, the DNA evidence must be collected within 72 hours from the time the sexual assault occurs. However, other forms of evidence can be revealed through a sexual assault forensic exam even after the 72-hour mark.
One important thing to note is that the victim does not have to report the crime to have the exam, but going through with the exam does give the victim a chance to safely store any possible evidence if they choose to report the crime at a later date.
Steps in a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam
The Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) is the largest anti-sexual violence organization in the U.S. that has helped over 3.7 million sexual assault survivors. According to their site, the steps in a sexual assault forensic exam goes as follows:
- Immediate Care – A victim with injuries needing immediate attention will be taken care of first.
- History – The healthcare provider will ask the victim questions regarding pre-existing conditions, recent consensual sexual activity, and current medications. Next, the victim will be asked about the details of the assault to help identify all possible areas of injury or where to locate DNA.
- Head-to-Toe Examination – This can include a full body examination—internal examinations of the mouth, vagina, and/or anus. It may also include samples of urine, blood, hair, or body surface swabs. Other items may be collected with the victim’s permission such as clothing or undergarments.
- Possible Mandatory Reporting – This can vary by state, but Florida requires mandatory reporting for any signs of abuse in children or elderly adults. For more information, find RAINN’s Mandatory Reporting page here.
- Follow Up Care
In 2021, Florida Legislature passed HB 673 titled “Gail’s Law.” The law was named after Gail Gardner, a sexual assault survivor who was attacked by an armed man in 1988. The man was armed with a knife when he broke into Gardner’s home, where he then proceeded to rape her at knifepoint. Gardner completed a rape kit after the assault but had to wait more than three decades until it was tested.
After over 30 years of waiting, Gardner finally learned that the person responsible for her sexual assault was already serving a prison sentence for different assault charges.
“For 30 years I didn’t know what happened to my kit, I didn’t have an idea what was next,” Gardner said in Tallahassee on Wednesday.
HB 673 was created to amend the Florida Statute Section 943.326, which would then require that the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) develops a statewide tracking database for evidence of sexual offenses.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the bill into law in June 2022. The new amendments will be required by all Florida Law Enforcement offices by July 1st, 2023.
How the New System Works
The new rape kit tracking system will work by adding barcodes to the rape kits. Sexual assault victims will be able to create a login and password attached to a website. If the victim chooses, they can be notified if there are any DNA matches from the rape kit evidence. The victim will also have access to follow the status of the rape kits—changing from testing to analysis when it moves from a medical facility to evidence custody in a law enforcement lab.
The new tracking system is now available in 41 Florida counties, including the following:
The bill requires that the FDLE ensures that all sexual assault victims are made aware of the new system, as well as how to access it. The victims will be notified if a DNA match occurs but will not notify the identifying information. If the notification had the possibility of negatively impacting an investigation, the notification can be delayed for up to 180 days. In addition, the bill allows the FDLE to create rules and requirements for all participating offices.
The new rape kit tracking system is set to be available across the entire state of Florida by July 2023.
The following is a statement from Gail Gardner after her bill was passed last June:
“I am proud to have this bill named after me and to know that it will bring information and answers to sexual assault survivors, like me. I waited 32 fear and anxiety-filled years to hear anything about my kit and my case, and I know others are experiencing that tragedy right now. My heart aches for them. Gail’s law will help fix the problem and bring some healing to survivors who deserve no less. Now, I’m satisfied but let’s look forward to the day when a rape kit tracking system will no longer be needed.”
Orlando-based State Senator Linda Stewart co-sponsored the bill. “I know it seems like forever but we’re getting there,” Steward said on Wednesday. “It is time that sexual assault survivors have easy and streamlined access to information regarding the status of their sexual assault kits.”
FDLE Lab Director Jason Bundy said of Gail’s Law: “We are happy that this program will clear up so much of the confusion for survivors about what happens to their kits.”
Rape Kits in a Criminal Trial
In a sexual battery case, a rape kit is often used as a prime piece of evidence. Although a rape kit cannot indicate whether the sexual intercourse was consensual, it can uncover DNA that can determine if the accused person had penetrated the victim with themself or with another object.
Police can use a rape kit’s results to search the criminal database, as well. If the DNA matches to an individual who has already been in the system, the rape kit can be used as the main source of evidence to charge the person responsible for the assault.
To find out more about how police find evidence for rape in a sexual battery case, you can read more on our blog post here.
Finding a Defense Attorney in Tallahassee, Florida
Criminal cases involving sexual offenses are prosecuted harshly in the state of Florida. Gail’s Law being passed into law will make law enforcement crackdown on sexual assault cases even further. While this is a great achievement for any victims of sexual assault, it will also impact those accused of sexual assault.
If you or someone you love has been accused of a sex crime, it is imperative to seek out legal guidance. Criminal convictions can have life-long repercussions, including paying fines, going to prison, or registering as a sex offender. The best way to protect yourself and your future is by working with an experienced sex crime defense attorney in your area. Don Pumphrey and his team of attorneys have years of experience working on sex crimes in Florida. Contact Pumphrey Law Firm today and receive a free consultation on your case by calling (850) 681-7777 or leave an online message on our website.
Written by Karissa Key