Originally on ABC 11

September 19, 2019

Rape survivors across North Carolina who feel they've been ignored - may finally get justice.

On Thursday, Gov. Roy Cooper signed the Standing Up for Rape Victims Act, known as the survivor law. You can read that bill here.

It aims to clear the massive backlog of rape test kits at police agencies across the state.

State leaders said Thursday afternoon that the law will prevent a backlog from ever happening again.

The bill lays out a roadmap and provides the money to test sexual assault kits.

The state has been dealing with a backlog of kits that have yet to be tested as victims wait for justice. In 2018, ABC11 reported that more than 15,000 rape kits collected from victims of sexual assault are waiting to be tested at law enforcement agencies across North Carolina.

"We need to send a clear message to survivors that the state of North Carolina cares about what happened to you," Josh Stein, NC Attorney General said. "A clear message to rapists that no matter how long ago you committed your crime, we are coming for you; and to the public that we will do everything in our power to keep you safe."

Stein held a news conference back in January to announce a crackdown on ending the backlog of untested rape kits in North Carolina. A failure to test rape kits, in some cases, has allowed sexual predators to remain free.

Stein, a Democrat, was joined Thursday by a Republican lawmaker to talk about the bipartisan effort to make rape victims a priority.

"All the floor votes were unanimous and it's just great to see that," said Rep. Carson Smith, R-Pender County.

Local police, the head of the state crime lab, a rape victim and victims' advocates showed up to praise the new law.

For new sexual assault cases, it will require the hospital or agency that collects the evidence to notify police within 24 hours.

Then police have seven days to get the kit and it has to be submitted for testing within 45 days.

For kits already sitting on the shelves at law enforcement agencies before January 2018, that agency must establish a review team of experts.

Then the review team must prioritize the kits based on numerous factors within the next six months.

The agency must then send the kits for testing according to the priority.

But even with $6 million in funding, clearing 15,000 kits won't happen quickly.

"The fact of the matter is, it will take a few years before this backlog is eliminated. We wish it could faster," Stein said. "It's just a function of capacity."

Still, victims, such as Krista Maiden are grateful.

"Each of these boxes represent a tragic and traumatic event," Maiden said. "They represent a human being. They are one of the keys to justice. On behalf of sexual assault survivors, thank you."