Julie Weil is an international speaker, consultant, victim advocate and sexual assault survivor. She is the Director of Not Just Me Foundation.
As a lifelong resident of the Sunshine State who also happens to be a survivor of extreme violence at the hands of a prolific serial rapist, my passion surrounding the issue of rape kit testing and tracking has been burning in me for over a decade. In September 2010, I was invited to share my story on Capitol Hill when the US Congress held a hearing about why rape is the most underreported and under prosecuted crime in America.
While on Capitol Hill, I learned about the extensive rape kit backlog of more than 400,000 kits in the United States. I have been advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform both in Florida and across the nation ever since. My first mission was a two-year push to help pass the SAFER (Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting) Act at the federal level. This law provides funding for states to assess the extent of their backlog. It passed and became a part of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) in February 2013. Once that was in place, I turned my attention to my home state and pushed for a budget bill to inventory Florida’s backlog of rape kits in 2015. The audit shockingly revealed that there were more than 13,400 untested kits in my state that had never made it to crime labs. I was in disbelief, learning that thousands of people endured the horrors of sexual violence and the added trauma of a forensic exam to only have their kits untested and their hope of justice suspended.
In April 2016, after many years of advocacy, I stood with Governor Rick Scott as he signed SB 626, which mandated the timely testing of ALL rape kits in Florida. That day was about hope, public safety, and the opportunity for many to achieve closure. The fight was not over, however. A rape kit tracking system was the next pillar of meaningful rape kit reform to prevent the backlog from happening again. In 2017, conversations with legislators began about how the system could be held more accountable and give victims more control and transparency over their DNA. I met so many people over the years who never knew what happened with their cases and if usable DNA was ever recovered from their kits. Without that knowledge, survivors lived in fear of re-victimization and struggled with healing. Once the state backlog was tested as a result of the 2016 law, thousands of DNA samples were finally uploaded into CODIS. Amazingly, thousands of hits were made, and perpetrators were identified. What survivors wanted now for the future, was a way to follow their kits through the system so they could track progress and hopefully expedite long-awaited justice.
I am happy to have advocated for tracking legislation that culminated in the landmark passage of Gail’s Law, ten years after the fight for total reform began. Facing up to a problem and encouraging accountability can be difficult tasks. I am so grateful that the state of Florida has been receptive to survivor-inspired legislation that helps rape victims find their voice and impact positive change. Tracking legislation is vital for states so that stakeholders can follow evidence from place to place, arrests can happen more quickly and there is an assurance to citizens that the backlog won’t happen again.
Most importantly to me, tracking puts control back into the hands of survivors. Being able to see where your evidence is, being alerted when there is an update and knowing that the system values what you have been through is vital to personal healing. The Track-Kit SAK tracking system gives victims of sexual violence a chance to reclaim some of their power that was stripped away during their assault by allowing them to access their health records and stay on top of their evidence. This power is priceless.
Thank you, Florida lawmakers, for standing up for survivors of sexual violence and implementing rape kit tracking. Every kit matters!