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Committee passes bill to give victims status on rape kits

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SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee unanimously recommended a bill Tuesday that would improve communication between sexual assault victims and law enforcement.

HB157 looks to clarify a victim's bill of rights when it comes to receiving information about forensic exams, such as rape kits.

The bill requires victims be notified whether the evidence has been submitted for DNA analysis and about the results of analysis. It also requires the investigating agency to tell the victim if it chooses not to have the evidence analyzed or intends to dispose of the evidence, said House Minority Leader Jen Seelig, D-Salt Lake City, the bill's sponsor.

"Sadly, I will also say it is embarrassing that we have to bring a bill like this forward. ... Apparently we have somehow fallen short," said West Valley Police Chief Lee Russo, noting that a victim's rights are "paramount."

Many sexual assault victims have "no idea" what's going on with their cases, according to Alana Kindness with the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

"It doesn’t give them access to any information that don’t already have the right to have or require law enforcement to disclose any info they’re not already entitled to disclose to victims of a crime," Kindness said.

Jessica Ripley said she was raped by a stranger in February 2012 near the Shilo Inn in downtown Salt Lake. She had been celebrating her sister's birthday at the dance club, The Hotel, where she believes she was drugged. She was interviewed by police and a victim's advocate performed a rape kit. But two years later, she said she still doesn't know who violated her body.

"I felt like I had to be my own detective to get anything done," Ripley said. "Like I have to do all the work myself."

Jessica said after that night, she was never contacted by law enforcement

"I'd like to know that they're still working on it," Ripley said. "I felt like my kit kind of went on a shelf somewhere — who knows where — to collect dust."

Holly Mullen, executive director of the Rape Recovery Center, said one in three Utah women and one in six Utah men will be affected by some sort of sexual violence in their lives.

Mullen said a woman in her 20s came into her office Monday and attributed some of her suicidal tendencies to the "extreme" length of time she's been waiting for information about her rape case.

"This is one piece, one step to try and combat these crimes," Seelig said.


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