On April 24, Gov. Kathy Hochul announced the opening of a state facility in the Capital Region for the purpose of storing unreported sexual assault evidence kits, giving victims more time to prioritize recovering from the incident and plan their next move.
This secure, climate controlled storage facility began accepting evidence kits in mid-January 2023. Both members under the Albany Med Health System umbrella — Albany Medical Center and Glens Falls Hospital — have since transferred 525 items to the facility for storage.
Of those 525 items, 277 of them are sexual offense evidence collection kits, 83 are drug-facilitated sexual assault kits, and the remaining 165 are miscellaneous items that are relevant to the sexual assault case, including clothing and bedding.
Sexual offense evidence collection kits and drug-facilitated sexual assault kits alike are distributed by New York’s Division of Criminal Justice Services to hospitals and medical facilities, at no cost.
Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation Ilse Knecht points to research that found survivors feel a strong ownership of the material collected during their exam and that having consistent on-demand information about the status of their kit can support survivors in their healing process.
“This new facility, the first of its kind in the country, is a meaningful step forward for New York in creating a trauma-informed system that makes the needs of survivors, and their healing, a priority,” Knecht said.
The week of April 23 to April 29 is recognized as the National Crime Victims’ Rights Week, with this year’s theme of calling “upon communities to amplify the voices of survivors and create environments where survivors have the confidence that they will be heard, believed, and supported.”
Ripe with candlelight vigils, conferences calling for action, meetings to share support, and trauma recovery workshops, the week sheds a light on the resources available to victims across the nation.
Once a victim reports their sexual assault and undergoes evidence collection, a kit is assigned to them, and the investigation and collection process begins. The process stressed both urgency and delicacy when it comes to the victims, who can decide for themselves whether or not they will transfer their kit to the facility. While in storage, the onus of deciding what route the victim chooses is granted a sense of relief as they navigate their recovery journey.
“New York continues to lead on victim services and public safety,” said Division of Criminal Justice Services Commissioner Rossana Rosado. “[This] gives survivors the ability to make decisions that are right for them, and allow them to stay informed regardless of whether they choose to engage with the criminal justice system.”
Unreported kits can be stored in the victim-focused facility for anywhere from a month to 20 years from the date of collection, and the survivors are able to track the transfer.
A multitude of factors contribute to victims of sexual assault waiting years to go through with an investigation into their assault, or even never reporting them. Fear of retaliation, distrust of law enforcement, internalized shame, and avoidant trauma responses the victim subconsciously practices to protect themselves are only a few.
“All too often, the sheer trauma of a sexual assault can leave a survivor questioning the best path forward in the days, months, and sometimes even years that follow,” said Daniel W. Tietz, New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s Commissioner. “As we mark National Crime Victims Rights Week, this facility is a great example of how New York State and the Office of Victim Services are putting the needs of survivors at the forefront and ensuring they have the resources to assist in their recovery.”
The facility’s current storage capacity is 17,400 items, and the number will only expand with the renovation of a second storage wing, to 26,600 items. New York hospitals have approximately 10,000 kits in storage that are eligible to be moved to the facility, once victims are consulted.
The employees at Mohawk Valley hospitals will be among the first in the state to undergo proper training needed to notify victims of sexual assault that their evidence collection kits will be transferred to the facility, and the survivors will be instructed on how to track their kits. Beginning in May, state-wide training protocol will be following suit.
“New York state remains committed to supporting survivors of sexual assault in every way possible,” Gov. Hochul said. “This new state facility will be a critical tool to help deliver support and justice, while providing a strong foundation for victims to heal and alleviate some of the pressure they may feel when it comes to legal timelines.”