New Sexual Assault Survivors' Bill of Rights will extend retention of untested evidence kits

Jan 4, 2019

A sexual assault survivors’ bill of rights will be implemented this upcoming year in New York State. Governor Andrew Cuomo signed the legislation last week.

Credit WBFO file photo

The new law will require the Department of Health, along with the Division of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Victim Services, and others to establish a new bill that would inform survivors of their rights and services available.

Crisis Services Advocate Department Director Caitlin Powalski said most people don’t know about the systems in place until they have experienced an interpersonal violence trauma or crisis. 

“Then they are seeking help from a perspective of already being harmed and already potentially being overwhelmed and trying to assess their own safety,” she said. “I think that this can help make the process better but it is certainly challenging because sometimes folks are not aware of the resources available to them until they need them and then they are potentially needing them after they’ve been harmed”

The bill will ensure survivors are notified of DNA test results and let them know before a sexual assault evidence kit is destroyed. It will also extend the retention of untested evidence kits from 30 days to 20 years.

“I do think it’s important that should someone change their mind later about whether or not they want to move forward criminally or if they want to have that option later and they don’t want to make that option right now because whatever their healing process right now is following the evidence collection… I think that’s very important,” Powalski said.  

Powalski said we live in a culture where historically we have not believed victims of sexual assault. She says that’s just one of many hurdles victims have to overcome.

“It can take a while to go through a criminal justice system,” she said. “At times, it may be confusing to a survivor who has experienced inner personal violence and trauma because they’re trying to heal and the system, when we haven’t experienced trauma, is also confusing.”

Powalski added she believes this legislation is a step in the right direction in having conversations about consent.

“(It can) really help push forward a culture that is going to teach respect, teach healthy relationships, and (one) that holds people’s actions that are crimes accountable for them,” she said.

Crisis Services serve sexual assault and domestic violence victims. They can be reached at 716-834-3131.