PITTSFIELD, Mass. — Rape is horrific. But sometimes in Massachusetts, that's not even the worst part for victims.
"Their experience with the criminal justice system was actually worse than the rape itself," said state Rep. Tricia Farley-Bouvier on Friday of victims of rape.
"The collection for the rape crisis kit can be very difficult and can take from three to seven hours. The re-traumatizing is so difficult for people to face because this is a system they trust."
She said 20 percent of victims who report the crime regret they did so because of the way they are treated in the justice system. Farley-Bouvier is pushing a bill in the State House to provide consistency across the state in how rape cases are handled.
The bill received a hearing on the Judiciary Committee last Wednesday and the Pittsfield Democrat is hoping it'll make it to the legislative floor by the end of the year. The bill focuses on ensuring victims have information about their rape kit, access to sexual assault counselors, and more information about options and legal rights.
"We want to have good procedures across the commonwealth," Farley-Bouvier said.
One aim of the bill is to bring tracking technology to rape kits, the collected evidence in a case. She says there have been victims who have had their kits destroyed by state labs without notification and many victims have no idea when the kit will be processed or even where it is stored.
"We need to have fair and efficient rape kit procedures," Farley-Bouvier said. "We have heard from survivors that it is very inconsistent depending on where you live in the commonwealth about how your rape kit is treated, how it is stored, there are difference processes in the state crime lab and the Boston crime lab, which are the two that process these. Specifically, there are a lot of inconsistencies around the notification and how people can access information about their rape kit."
The bill calls for the state to purchase and implement tracking technology to improve access to the information.
"We know other states have implemented tracking procedures. You can track your UPS packages. You know whether it is on the truck. We want to have victims know where it is in the process," Farley-Bouvier said. "We know that technology exists and we just want to make sure it is implemented when it comes to rape kits."
Currently there are laws in place guaranteeing victims access to rape counselors but many people don't know that. And in many parts of the state, the access isn't easy. The bill is twofold by calling for memorandum of agreements in all parts of the state to guarantee easy access and to enhance victims' awareness of their rights.
Further, the bill would allow for a counselor to be available after or during breaks in interviews with investigators — interviews that can be difficult for victims to handle.
She is also looking for training for investigators, police officers, detectives, and medical staff in best practices of working with a victim.
Locally, the state has recently added Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners to handle evidence collection at Berkshire Medical Center. Not every hospital is designated as a SANE facility and Farley-Bouvier says in the more rural parts of the state, finding counselors and nurses can be difficult.
"That person is well trained in the counseling aspects but that person is also doing some extremely difficult and intrusive medical specimen collection so the person might need an additional person to be there," Farley-Bouvier said.
To ensure the new policies are being implemented across the board, the bill would create a task force of investigators, councilors, medical staff, district attorneys and police to continually look over the process and make suggestions as to how to improve the system.
"You don't want to put laws in place and then not have the followup happen," Farley-Bouvier said.
During last week's hearing, former Attorney General Matha Coakley testified in favor of the bill. By March, Farley-Bouvier will know if it will come out of committee. From there, it would have to go to Ways & Means because the bill asks for money for the tracking and to increase storage capacity of rape kits.
"You can't just ignore the practical realities of that," Farley-Bouvier said of storing the kits. "There are some real practical issues that need to be addressed and could very well have budgetary requests to it."
The bill was filed last year and there is a possibility that it may be passed by the end of the session. But, there are many steps to take.
"It is in the process. It is a two-year process and the committee process takes over a year. It was heard in the Judiciary Committee [last] week," Farley-Bouvier said.
"It is difficult for something like this to get through in one session. There are so many pieces to it and so many voices to be heard."
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