California launches site to track results of rape kits after police backlogs

California on Tuesday launched a website that allows victims of sexual assault to track the status of the results of their medical exams — an effort to address widespread complaints about wait times due to backlogged cases at local police departments.

The online portal, hosted by the California Department of Justice, allows victims to search for results of rape kits completed after 2018.

Sexual assault forensic exams are completed in hospitals and sent to local law enforcement departments, which are tasked with linking DNA to perpetrators. But in California and nationwide, the evidence has sat on shelves at police and sheriff's departments, in some cases going untested for years.

Nearly 14,000 sexual assault exam kits remained untested in California as of 2020, according to a report by the state attorney general.

Just last month, a lawyer for a woman who accused three former San Diego State football players of gang-raping her at a party last year sued the city, demanding more information, including DNA results, from police nearly a year after her rape exam had been conducted.

The new state website is a result of legislation authored by Sen. Connie Leyva (D-Chino), signed into law last year by Gov. Gavin Newsom.

SB 215 requires the state to allow victims to check the status and location of their exams "privately, securely and electronically."

Proponents of the bill, including the Alameda County district attorney's office, said the process of tracking rape kits has been "cumbersome and not private," requiring victims to contact law enforcement via phone or in person.

"After they have already been sexually assaulted — and after they have bravely endured a long and invasive rape kit exam — it is crucial that we enable survivors to track the status of their rape kit securely whenever they wish," Leyva said.

California Atty. Gen. Rob Bonta, who is up for reelection next week, said in a statement Tuesday that the new website, as well as a state-appointed coordinator of the program, will help clear local backlogs and "ensure timely processing" of evidence.

“My office is committed to doing everything in our power to support survivors, reduce harm and secure justice," Bonta said. "That’s exactly what the new actions we’re announcing today are all about — increasing access to the information to which survivors are entitled under the law and supporting our local partners in their efforts to process sexual assault evidence."

Bonta's office said the site is secure, as users must have a kit number to access data.

"As a safeguard against potential misuse," the portal provides only the location of the kit and its status in the collection process — not personally identifiable information of victims, Bonta said.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.