GEORGIA (WTOC) - July 1 marks a day of new laws going into effect in Georgia. Of the new laws going into effect Friday, there is one that advocates for victims of sexual violence have wanted to see for a long time.
The new measure requires DNA evidence collected from victims get into the hands of forensic analysts faster.
The hope of victim advocates is that the "Compassionate Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Act" will not only help diminish the existing backlog of rape kits in Georgia, but also help lead to quicker prosecution in cases of sexual violence.
"Ultimately, what this does is it strengthens the efforts of law enforcement by way of apprehending suspects, as well as preventing rape from happening. That's the ultimate thing," said Kesha Gibson-Carter, director of the Rape Crisis Center of the Coastal Empire.
From now on, any law enforcement agency or health care professional collecting forensic evidence from a suspected victim of sexual violence will have to forward that evidence to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation within 30 days. The law will also require in the coming months that police create a list of forensic evidence collected.
Chatham County District Attorney Meg Heap said, "And I'd have to say one of the shout-outs has to go to the director of the Rape Crisis Center, because she pushed for these cases. Because the cases that have been sitting there where there was no suspect, or perhaps the evidence wasn't very strong, that strengthens the case."
Before the Georgia Bureau of Investigation started outsourcing rape kits for processing to other labs, there were around 1,600 un-submitted kits. A GBI spokeswoman told WTOC there is still a backlog state-wide, with more than 500 still considered backlogged in the Atlanta office alone.
Officials said backlog numbers for regional GBI labs are not readily available.
Heap added, "Many times witness testimony is enough, but in this day and age, juries expect more evidence. So anything we have goes a long way."
We are also at the halfway point of a two year window created by the Hidden Predator Act, which allows victims of all ages with enough evidence against an alleged abuser, to file a civil suit, despite any statutes of limitations.
"It's not uncommon for individuals to live with these secrets for a life time; ten, twenty, thirty years before they disclose. To have a law on the books that affords them the opportunity to report without having that restraint of having a limitation is wonderful," said Gibson-Carter.
As part of the new Rape Kit law, starting in December the GBI will issue an annual report detailing the number of cases where they have tested evidence, and the number of kits that have yet to be tested.