OLYMPIA, Wash. -- No one knows exactly how many rape kits are gathering dust in police evidence rooms in Washington state--but it’s estimated to be around 6,000 according to a recent survey by the WA Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs.
Senator Ann Rivers, who represents Clark County, remembers her reaction when she first heard that number: “Surprised and horrified, I’m a rape survivor myself,” Rivers said.
Rivers said that the serial rapist who assaulted her when she was 14 years old was caught and imprisoned, but many victims are still waiting for justice.
“The women of our state need to know if they have been raped and there has been a rape kit taken, something is actually being done with it,” she said.
Rivers, a Republican, is co-sponsoring a new law along with democratic Representative Tina Orwall, that would require rape kits be tracked in a central database. HB 2530 would also provide funding to investigate sex crimes and to begin testing the statewide backlog of rape kits.
But Rivers and Orwall part ways over whether some of that funding should come from a so-called stripper tax.
Orwall said her bill contains findings connecting live adult entertainment to human trafficking, sexual assault, and rape, which is why a tax on strip clubs makes sense.
“It would be put on the sexually oriented businesses, specifically strip clubs, and it would be like a patron fee, an extra $4 when they pay the entrance fee,” Orwall said.
Senator Ann Rivers said the tax would be an impediment to business, which she opposes even if the business in question is a strip club.
“I do not support this fee, I believe we can get this (rape kit testing) funded out of the priorities of government in public safety," Rivers said.
Wherever the money comes from, Rivers and Orwall said they share the goal of setting up a statewide database that would require putting a bar code on each rape kit so that it can be tracked. They also support sending untested rape kits to private labs for testing. That would take pressure off of the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab, which has been overwhelmed by an influx of rape kits coming in since a July law took effect requiring police submit every rape kit for testing within 30 days of its collection.
Both lawmakers agree victims who undergo invasive rape exams deserve to have that evidence tested and put into a national crime solving database to see if there’s a match with an offender. Where backlogs have been tested in other states, about a third of the rape kits matched DNA profiles for serial rapists according to Orwall.
“The women of our state need to know that if they have been raped and there has been a kit taken, something’s actually going to be done with that kit to catch the perpetrator who victimized them,” Rivers said.
“We want them to feel we sought justice to help them in the healing process as they try to rebuild their lives,” Orwall said.
KING 5 contacted several strip clubs in Western Washington about the proposed tax, but all declined comment.