BILLINGS- More reform is coming to how law enforcement and health professionals handle sexual assaults and specifically rape kits in Montana.
Senate Bill 52 was signed by Montana Gov. Steve Bullock Tuesday and is aimed at revising laws related to sexual-assault evidence kits.
The timing of the bill comes at a time when the nation is recognizing Sexual Assault Awareness month in April.
Several years ago, Montana Attorney General Tim Fox launched a sexual assault task force as concern grew nationally over untested rape kits stacking up in evidence lockers across the country.
According to Jon Bennion of the Montana Attorney General’s Office, the bill accomplishes four main goals.
First, it would develop a timetable for how to handle collected kits. Law-enforcement agencies would have to be notified within 24 hours after a kit is collected. Agencies would also take control of that kit within five days. The office of victim services would store the evidence kit for a minimum of one year.
Victims would be given the opportunity to sign a written consent to allow law enforcement to submit the sexual assault kit for testing and would not be billed for the cost of administering the sexual assault examination.
The state would continue its existing rape kit tracking system and continue to develop that system by allowing survivors to anonymously access the tracking system and locate the status and location of their evidence kit.
“I think that that’s an important step so that survivors feel like they have more information about what’s going on,” said Bennion. “We’ve heard a lot of survivors say that they just felt cut out of the process in the past and so we went to improve that.”
Those with the state crime lab in Missoula have seen an influx in kits coming to the lab.
Attorney General Tim Fox said on Twitter, that all of these changes make for big strides in the way Montana is ensuring survivors get justice.
Reporting by Andrea Lutz for MTN News