KIYC: AG’s new rape kit directive may not significantly improve the plight of sex assault victims

New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin has unveiled a new directive that would require rape kits to be retained longer and limits the reasons county prosecutors can decline to test them

Walt Kane

Mar 14, 2023, 2:56 AM

Updated 441 days ago

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New Jersey Attorney General Matt Platkin has unveiled a new directive that would require rape kits to be retained longer and limits the reasons county prosecutors can decline to test them. But a Kane In Your Corner investigation raises questions about whether the new rules will make much of a difference for sexual assault survivors who already feel lost in the system.
Lena Morrison says she still remembers the day she says she was sexually assaulted in a dorm room at Ramapo University.
“I couldn't really escape. I couldn't move. He was stronger than me,” Morrison recalls.
Morrison went to the hospital to have a forensic exam, commonly known as a rape kit. But three years later, she says the kit was never tested for DNA. She says prosecutors told her there was no point. They said that because she had met her attacker on a dating app, they would not have a strong enough case to charge him, regardless of what the rape kit showed.
Morrison recorded some of the conversations. In one, an assistant county prosecutor tells her “the information that's been gleaned from the investigation does not rise to the level to meet the elements in the criminal code and the statute for sexual assault.”
An investigator adds, “Based on the investigation, a crime was not committed.”
“He just sounded so condescending,” Morrison recalls. “He was like, ‘Well, you went there for consensual sex, did you not?’ I'm like, what does that have to do with him choking and raping me? I didn't consent to that.”
Under the Open Public Records Act, Kane In Your Corner requested data on rape kit testing in New Jersey. It shows 67% of rape kits released to law enforcement are tested statewide, but the numbers vary greatly from county to county.
Bergen County, where Morrison was assaulted, has one of the lowest testing rates in the state. Just 19% of the rape kits victims released to law enforcement were tested.
“There's no valid excuse,” says Ilse Knecht, executive director of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national advocacy group for sexual assault survivors.
Platkin announced on Monday a new directive for rape kit testing. It extends the amount of time kits should be stored when victims don’t give consent to test them, from five to 20 years. Most notably, for survivors like Morrison, it limits the reasons law enforcement can decline to test a kit. Law enforcement can no longer decline to test a kit simply because they suspect the sex was consensual or the attacker is a former spouse or partner.
“The reason why we have this directive is to ensure that we have statewide standards,” Platkin says. “Now, once consent is given, kits are expected to be tested within 10 days.”
But Kane In Your Corner finds that may not be the case. While the directive limits the reasons law enforcement can cite for not testing kits, it stops far short of the “test all kits” standard that many advocates support.
“There are loopholes in this directive that will very much allow rape kits to remain on shelves untested,” Knecht says.
Take Morrison’s case, for example. It’s unclear whether the rules would make any difference for someone in her situation. After all, she says the Bergen County Prosecutors Office told her it was declining to test her kit because it didn’t believe the DNA evidence would prove anything. That kind of decision would still be allowed.
“There should be no excuses,” Knecht says. “There should be no exceptions. If a survivor reports to police that they want their kit tested, then it should be tested.”
Platkin insists “the directive is making clear that that is the expectation. Only in limited circumstances would a kit not be tested.”
Morrison hopes that’s true. She says no victim should be treated like she was.
"They see a lot of cases, I'm sure but the ones that they don't do or the ones that they throw away like it's not just cases, they’re people," Morrison says.
Kane In Your Corner asked Bergen County to comment on why its rape kit testing rate is so much lower than the statewide average. A spokesperson promised an answer, but as of this writing, has not provided one.


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