Soroptimist International of Vacaville celebrated the International Day of Women March 8 by announcing its efforts to work with Assemblymember Jim Frazier in creating legislation to ensure the testing of all existing rape kits created between 2009 and 2017 in California.
According to Frazier, AB 1496 will be amended next week to require law enforcement submit all rape kits in their possession to crime labs for testing. “Crime labs will then be responsible for testing the kits within the timeframe indicated,” he wrote in a letter read by his senior field representative Dorris Panduro to an audience of 60-plus gathered at the Vacaville Museum.
SI Vacaville President Beth Rowe said her organization has been on a mission since learning that some 18,000 kits in California have gone untested and will be destroyed.
In Solano County, the numbers aren’t as bleak, because the county participated in a pilot program beginning in 2011, which ensured testing occurred.
“But there is still a gap between 2009 and 2011 here, with many untested kits,” said Rowe.
In Vacaville, 10 fell into that window. Since it cost between $500 and $2,500 per rape kit, SI Vacaville made it the group’s 2018-19 project to finance testing. First, $6,000 came from the Solano 100 Women Who Care group after Rowe gave a powerful presentation. A few months later, Assemblymember Frazier made a $4,000 donation, enabling all 10 kits to be tested.
“Of those, one had a match,” Kari Lee, Vacaville Police Department property and evidence supervisor announced to the gathering. “We hope one day we’ll see justice for the victim in this case.”
Rowe thanked the Vacaville Police Department for allowing SI Vacaville to pay for the testing and to ensure there were no kits left behind.”
“You might not think one in 10 is a big deal, but it is,” Lee told the gathering. “That’s 10 percent, which is impressive.”
Now SI Vacaville is setting its sights higher by working with Frazier’s office.
In the past, California had a statute of limitations on rape cases, so after 10 years, if a kit hadn’t been tested, it was destroyed. Recent legislation eliminates the statute of limitations and ensures that kits collected after 2017 will be tested.
“That’s great, moving forward, but there are eight years of evidence that will be destroyed unless we take action,” Rowe said. “In our county, we’re only worried about two years of kits, but in other parts of the state, it’s eight years. Kits are being destroyed as we speak.”
“Organizations such as Soroptimist are key in bringing forth issues that need attention to the forefront, particularly those that affect women and girls, so that elected officials, such as myself, are aware and can be of service,” wrote Frazier. “That is where there was not a second thought, when asked to contribute to assist with having the backlogged kits tested. And what an accomplishment, 100 percent of the rape kits at the Vacaville Police Department have been tested. Lives will be impacted…”
Rowe said it is important for victims of sexual assault to know they are being heard, that they are not just a case number on a shelf.
“We hope to inspire women in other communities to speak up on important issues like these. It is a core value of our mission to support women and girls and to be a voice for those who don’t have a voice. I think that collectively, we can make huge impact.”
The announcement came at a special reception at the Vacaville Museum, where SI Vacaville is sponsoring an art exhibit by renowned artist Malaquis Montoya, who attended the International Day of Women event. His exhibit, titled “Women I Have Encountered,” features 35 original paintings and prints that depict the significant impact women have had on Montoya, a renowned social justice artist and Solano County resident.
“His work ties in perfectly to our mission,” said Rowe. “He is quoted as saying, ‘What better function for art at this time than as a voice for the voiceless?’ That’s what we’re trying to do as well.”
Although the exhibit was originally slated to close on March 8, the run has been extended until March 17. Gallery hours are 1 to 4:30 p.m., Wednesday through Sunday. Adults are asked to pay a $3 admission/donation fee, while senior citizens and students are $2.