Bill would track rape kits through Georgia criminal justice system

Ilse Knecht of the Joyful Heart Foundation speaks Tuesday during a Zoom press conference on House Bill 255, which would require rape kits to be tracked through the criminal justice process.
Ilse Knecht of the Joyful Heart Foundation speaks Tuesday during a Zoom press conference on House Bill 255, which would require rape kits to be tracked through the criminal justice process.

Evidence gathered from sexual assaults would be tracked through Georgia’s criminal justice system, helping to ensure cases move forward, according to a bill pending in the state House.

The legislation would build on recent state laws that required police to save sexual assault evidence and clear backlogs of untested rape kits.

When police match a rape kit to a suspect, they could inform victims when alleged perpetrators are identified, arrested and charged, said state Rep. Scott Holcomb, the sponsor of House Bill 255.

“Despite all the efforts we’ve made over the last few years, we still don’t see many cases. I want that to change,” said Holcomb, a Democrat from Atlanta. “What we want to do is have more prosecutions.”

If approved, the measure would ensure that sexual assault evidence is used to hold perpetrators accountable, said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, which seeks to improve handling of assault, domestic violence and child abuse cases.

“When survivors leave the hospital, they never hear anything again about their rape kit. It’s very traumatizing for them,” Knecht said. “Knowing and having information about where their rape is located is essential to their well-being.”

In addition, the legislation would also hold physicians accountable if they’re found to have sexually assaulted a patient.

A national investigation by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution found that doctors accused of sexual misconduct rarely face consequences. Of 450 cases against doctors brought to medical regulators or courts in 2016 and 2017, nearly half of the doctors remained licensed to practice medicine.

Under HB 255, physicians found to have committed a sexual assault on a patient would lose their license.

The legislation will likely receive its first committee hearing next week, Holcomb said.

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