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Answers coming for nearly 1k rape victims

Posted: 11:38 PM, Mar 02, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-03 04:38:01Z

A bill headed to Governor Scott's desk to become law will give a voice to thousands of rape victims in the state who feel they've been forgotten. 

"Victims always call and they want to know what's the status of my kit," said Carole Messam-Gordon, Program Coordinator of Victim Services SART Center in Palm Beach County. 

Victim Services advocates in Palm Beach County have had no answers for nearly 1,000 rape victims whose kits have been sitting, waiting to be tested at labs. 

"I think the disappointment was definitely there," added Messam-Gordon.

The backlog of more than 13,000 rape kits across the state was revealed through a state audit. The state has reaction. A bill that has cleared the Florida Legislature will allot 8 million dollars to processing those kits, law enforcement will have 30 days to send the kits to labs, and labs will have 120 days to complete testing. 

"Now survivors can have hope and not despair," said Julie Weil, a Jupiter mother who has made it her mission to fix the broken system of processing rape kits.

There was no backlog when she was abducted and raped in front of her children in 2002, but she remembers the torturous two to three hour rape kit collection process. 

"In the wake of something terrible and traumatic that’s just happened to you, you have to answer questions, you have to submit to swabs and a forensic evaluation to photographs, and then at the end of that horrible experience to think that it was all for nothing is really disheartening," said Weil, imagining what those victims whose kits are still untested are going through. 

Palm Beach County's Sexual Assault Response Team advocates believe this new law will encourage rape survivors to come forward. They also say it will help advocates provide more information about cases.

"At least now with this new bill we will have an answer, we will have somewhere to go, we will have guidelines to follow," added Messam-Gordon.

Victim Services says it's important for rape victims to report within 5 days of a sexual assault to not lose any crucial physical evidence.

A spokesperson for The Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office told The Sun Sentinel that the Sheriff is outsourcing lab work of about 250 cases every three months till they "catch up."

The bill will become law effectively July 1 pending the Governor's signature.