The Legislature has unanimously approved “Gail’s Law,” a bill to help rape victims track evidence that could lead to their attacker.
A database, as established in the legislation (HB 673), would be open to the victims so they can track what is going on with their kits as law enforcement processes them. With the Senate’s passage on Monday, the bill will soon head to Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ desk.
The bill is named “Gail’s Law” after Gail Gardner, an Orlando woman who was sexually assaulted at knifepoint in 1988 and whose rape kit was not tested for more than 30 years. A few months ago, she found out that her attacker was a serial rapist linked to 15 other sexual assaults and serving a life sentence.
He has been incarcerated for more than a decade. But because of the trauma from that attack, Gardner spent years fearing her attacker could return.
“I am proud to have this bill named after me and to know that it will bring information and answers to sexual assault survivors, like me,” Gardner said in a statement. “I waited 32 fear and anxiety-filled years to hear anything about my kit and my case, and I know others are experiencing that tragedy right now. My heart aches for them. Gail’s Law will help fix the problem and bring some healing to survivors who deserve no less.”
Boca Raton Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg, who filed the bill, noted that April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Slosberg doubles as co-chair of the Florida Women’s Legislative Caucus.
“There is no reason why we should be able to track a pizza more efficiently than we can track critical evidence in a sexual assault case,” Slosberg said in a statement after the Senate vote. “By passing Gail’s Law, we are addressing the historical lack of accountability surrounding sexual assault investigations, reducing the potential for evidence to go untested, and empowering survivors of sexual assault.”
Survivors often feel powerless because of the lack of support they currently receive, said Senate sponsor, Orlando Democratic Rep. Linda Stewart.
“Gail’s Law would bring accountability and transparency to the process — placing the power back in the hands of survivors,” she added.
When victims provide DNA evidence through an examination, the evidence is placed in a kit. Under the bill, barcodes on kits would be scanned as they pass between agencies. A confidential portal, accessible by victims with a login and password, would provide status updates for them.
Law enforcement would have until 2023 to implement the database.
The bill is a second legislative response after the state was shocked in 2015 by reports from USA Today that Florida had a backlog of thousands of unprocessed rape kits. Eventually, a Florida audit determined 13,345 rape kits had gone untested in Florida. Some were neglected or even abandoned for decades, many lost in shuffles of evidence in cases handled independently by law enforcement agencies and courts throughout the state.
In 2016, then-Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill approved unanimously by both chambers. That law required local authorities to turn over all the test kits to the state’s crime lab within 30 days and for labs to process them within 120 days of receipt.
Law enforcement cleared the backlog by mid-2019. When the latest bill passed the House, Slosberg called it the “natural next step” to improving the state’s rape kit policy.