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State Launches Evidence Portal for Sexual Assault Survivors

The California Department of Justice recently launched a new online portal that gives survivors of sexual assault a way to track the status of the DNA evidence kits associated with their cases.

Earlier this month, California Attorney General Rob Bonta announced the launch of an online portal that allows survivors of sexual assault to track the status of the evidence kits associated with their cases.

The management of these kits was called into question in 2020 when a statewide audit found nearly 14,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits at the local level, most of which were collected prior to 2018.

The new portal’s launch was made possible by the passage of Senate Bill 215 in June 2021, but this ultimately dates back to 2015, when the California Department of Justice (DOJ) created the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Tracking (SAFE-T) database, which limited use to those working in law enforcement agencies, public crime labs and the district attorneys’ offices. This new portal essentially makes the data from this database accessible to survivors.

“My office is committed to doing everything in our power to support survivors, reduce harm and secure justice,” Bonta said in the announcement. “And, as a result of the new portal, survivors will have direct access to critical information.”

With the new portal, survivors can see in real time where their evidence kits are in the process: whether they have been received by a law enforcement agency; are in transit to a lab; have been received by the lab; are undergoing DNA analysis; or have had that DNA analysis completed.

“Knowledge is power, and this portal gives that power to the victim-survivor,” said Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley in the announcement.

If the survivor finds that their sexual assault evidence kit is not moving through the process, they are able to call the Victims’ Services Unit phone number to get connected with their local jurisdiction or other relevant agency, a spokesperson from the DOJ explained.

The spokesperson also detailed that the portal data is protected through several safeguards; most notably, the database does not maintain personal identifying information.

The portal is also not accessible by the general public. Instead, to track the status of a sexual assault evidence kit, users must input their unique kit ID number and the name of the investigating agency. The portal provides a read-only response to the survivor for the kit records. In addition, there is a limited number of queries that can be made each day, which restricts a person from trying random combinations of numbers to access information.

The portal was built internally through a partnership between the Bureau of Forensic Services and the California Justice Information Services team.

In addition to the portal, the DOJ has also announced the creation of a statewide-level sexual assault evidence outreach coordinator position. Dr. Sarai Crain will fill this role to remove testing barriers, connect agencies with testing assistance and increase awareness around available resources.

This article first appeared in Government Technology, sister publication to Industry Insider — California.
Julia Edinger is a staff writer for Government Technology. She has a bachelor's degree in English from the University of Toledo and has since worked in publishing and media. She's currently located in Southern California.