Their View: Sexual assault plan could help victims

Monday, January 14, 2019


Montana Attorney General Tim Fox deserves full support from state lawmakers for his plan to make sexual assault investigation procedures uniform with full access to investigative information by victims. And he should get the funding he needs to make it happen.

It’s hard to know exactly, because victims can be reluctant to speak about their ordeal, but sexual assault is believed to be the most underreported of all crimes. By some estimates as few as one in 10 are reported. The reluctance comes from prosecutors unwillingness to prosecute cases that are complex and difficult to prove. It also stems from knowledge that victimblaming is a common defense in rape charge defenses. Under Fox’s proposal, hospitals and clinics where rape evidence is collected would be required to send them to the state crime lab where they all will be tested. Victims would also be able to keep track of the evidence online at any stage of the process. And under Fox’s plan, defense lawyers would no longer be allowed use victim-blaming as a primary defense.

Fox, a Republican, put some of his proposals in place informally after some 1,400 rape kits were discovered that had never been tested for foreign DNA. The kits were uncovered in 2015 and some dated back as far as 20 years. That’s an unforgivable lapse in lawenforcement protocol and clear evidence of a system that is broken and does not give the attention to sexual assault it deserves. The proposed legislation would make the procedural changes permanent in state law.

The overarching issue will be bipartisan. Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock has also squared off with the problem by proposing funding for an additional forensic scientist in the state crime lab. Bullock said an 88 percent increase in case load over the last five years — largely fueled by time-consuming sexual assault cases — is preventing the lab from completing its work in a timely manner. Sexual assault tends to languish in the shadows of our social dialogue. But anyone who has been a victim or has a loved one who has been knows how serious the impacts of this insidious crime can be.

It’s time these cases are given the priority they are due. Fox’s legislation would be a big step in that direction.

– by Bozeman Daily Chronicle