BOISE – Idaho lawmakers signed off on a statewide system for collecting and tracking DNA evidence of sexual assault Tuesday, despite objections from a sheriff who said they should stay out of it because many rape accusations are false.
The measure would create standards on how medical clinics use rape kits to collect fluids after a suspected sexual assault. It also would implement a timeline if law enforcement agencies decide to send the evidence to a state forensic laboratory for testing, unless the victim requests otherwise.
The agencies would need approval from their county prosecutor if they don’t think a rape kit should be tested. The legislation now heads to Gov. Butch Otter, who has not said whether he will sign it into law.
“This bill sends a clear message that victims are to be taken seriously,” said Sen. Maryanne Jordan, a Democrat from Boise. “The DNA evidence in these kits can be a powerful tool in solving these crimes.”
However, Bingham County Sheriff Craig Rowland told Idaho Falls TV station KIDK the measure is unnecessary and said lawmakers need to allow officers to do their jobs.
“They need to let us decide if we’re going to send the kit and when we send the kits in,” Rowland said. “Because the majority of our rapes – not to say that we don’t have rapes, we do – but the majority of our rapes that are called in, are actually consensual sex.”
Such claims are part of a larger problem of law enforcement harboring unfair skepticism of rape victims, said Ilse Knecht, policy and advocacy director for the Joyful Heart Foundation.
“Each one of these kits represents a survivor,” she said. “We need to take their claim seriously, treat them with respect and use the evidence.”
Now, law enforcement agencies are in charge of determining if a kit should be tested. That has led to disparity between agencies on how many kits are sent to the state lab for analysis.
Also Tuesday, lawmakers debated a separate proposal to eliminate a provision of Idaho’s sexual assault statute that requires people who say they were raped to prove they resisted the attack. The measure would make allowances for cases when a victim believes resistance would be futile or lead to further harm.
Republican Rep. Ron Nate, of Rexburg, voiced concern that removing the requirement would lead to false convictions.
“I still worry about the equal protection for those who are accused of rape,” he said.
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