Arnold: Aid for Rape Victims Costs Too Much

arnold-and-mariaAs the governor’s wife, Maria Shriver, attracted national media attention for a new report aimed at helping working women balance jobs and family, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger himself was busy vetoing legislation to help secure justice for women who are victims of sexual assault.

The vetoed bill would have required local jurisdictions to report annually to the California Department of Justice the number of rape kits in police storage facilities, and whether they have been tested or destroyed. By requiring agencies to keep track of evidence, it would make them accountable to victims of rape; the measure, AB 1017 by Pasadena Democratic Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, won easy approval in both houses.

Rape kits are used to gather medical evidence necessary to prosecute alleged rapists. The collection of DNA is an invasive process often lasting many hours, but it can help identify attackers as well as provide matches to other criminals in existing databases. A backlog of untested kits means that prosecution may not occur and rapists remain free. In the meantime, rape victims are often kept uninformed about the status of their case and so feel victimized twice.

For over a year, Human Rights Watch staff and volunteers in Los Angeles researched the rape kit backlog to determine the exact number of untested kits. In March they released a report, “Testing Justice,” that documented more than 12,000 untested kits in city and county storage facilities.

An effort led by volunteers who advocated for funding and LA City Controller Laura Chick, who is now California Inspector General and who conducted an audit of the LAPD, generated news coverage to put pressure on elected officials who finally stepped up. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and Third District Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky negotiated more funding for technical staff, to reduce the backlog and to sustain the effort.

The Governor’s veto statement of AB 1017 “acknowledged the need to ensure that rape kits are analyzed and processed in a timely manner.” In contrast to L.A. officials, however, his concern about cost outweighed his regard for the right to justice of victims of rape.

It is cruelly ironic that the veto came at the same time Shriver was attracting national attention for “The Women’s Nation,” the widely covered report encouraging government and employers to increase support for working women who must balance jobs and family.

Susan_RoseDespite Shriver’s political agenda, and amid a raft of budget cuts affecting women and children – including $16 million from domestic violence programs and $50 million from Healthy Families – the rape kit veto underscored the message that women in California count for less in the Schwarzenegger regime.

Susan Rose

Susan Rose served two terms on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors and is currently Vice-Chair of the Santa Barbara Human Rights Committee.

Republished with permission from CalBuzz.


  1. says

    I’ll be honest with you -as a feminist and former forensic examiner manager in charge of sex crimes for Southern Arizona – processing rape kits won’t do anything to help fight violence against women.

    The truth is, most sex crime victims are subjected to highly intrusive evidence collection examinations without being told that no one will ever prosecute their rape -despite the evidence collected. Unless you happen to be the tiny minority of women raped by a stranger, the system doesn’t do much of anything. This sounds reductionist, but it is the truth. Most sex crimes go unprosecuted.

    The majority or unprocessed rape kits are sex crimes committed by people known to the victim – and the criminal justice system doesn’t prosecute these crimes. Not only are women subjected to rape, but they are then subjected to lengthy (often many hours) pelvic exams to collect evidence that will rarely be used.

    I’m all for public outrage to fight violence against women – but demanding the processing of old rape kits is the wrong place to focus this energy. The problem is even if you process the evidence, the system doesn’t do anything with it! Yeah, some evidence might make it into a data base that could someday be linked to a future crime, but that is the minority.


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