A look at four bills that could impact sexual assault survivors and the state crime lab

Published: Feb. 23, 2023 at 3:49 PM CST|Updated: Feb. 24, 2023 at 11:05 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - A sexual assault can kickstart a lengthy and painful process for the victim. They have to decide whether to make a report and then decide whether to submit to a medical examination. Then they’re waiting for evidence to be processed as legal battles begin... which can take years to resolve. Your News Leader takes us through four bills up for consideration by North Dakota lawmakers that could impact both the survivors of sexual assault and the state crime lab.

Studies show that while one in five American women are sexually assaulted, the majority of cases are never reported. Researchers from the National Sexual Violence Research Center say only around two percent of reports are false, but for every 100 rape reports, just 18 result in arrest.

Over the past two months, Sydney Dollinger and other survivors of sexual assault spoke to lawmakers on what it’s like moving a rape case through North Dakota’s court system.

“Because the criminal process took so long, it took 2.5 years, [it] put me outside the statute of limitations to sue civilly,” said Sydney Dollinger, Bismarck.

State senators ultimately decided to pass a bill (S.B. 2282) that allows more time for sexual assault victims to file civil lawsuits.

It would give kids younger than 15, 21 years to file suit starting when they turn 15. 15 to 17-year-olds would have 21 years, and adult victims would have nine years.

That bill now moves to the House. A similar bill (H.B. 1145) that would give sexual assault survivors more time to get mental health help passed the House and is in the Senate.

Meanwhile, lawmakers also discussed bills related to the state crime lab. The lab is critical to prosecution because it processes evidence, including evidence collected in rape cases.

“And we have backlogs. This is a years-in-the-making problem,” said North Dakota Attorney General Drew Wrigley.

Among other evidence and tests, the lab is roughly three years behind on testing rape kits.

State senators killed a bill that would have allowed BCI to oversee the state crime lab (S.B. 2131) but pushed through an amended budget for the North Dakota Attorney General’s Office (S.B. 2003). That bill includes requests for additional space and equipment at the crime lab and will implement a study that would address the feasibility of the lab acquiring other vacant labs in the state.

S.B. 2003 is now in the House.