Attorney General Bonta Shares Guidance for Survivors of Sexual Assault, Unveils Slate of Actions to Support Crime Victims

Friday, April 29, 2022
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Announces support for package of legislation aimed at improving access to resources for those affected by crime or the loss of a loved one 

Highlights new efforts and technology to support the processing of sexual assault evidence

OAKLAND – As National Crime Victims’ Rights Week and Sexual Assault Awareness Month come to a close, California Attorney General Rob Bonta today shared guidance to help survivors of sexual assault access resources. In addition, the Attorney General is highlighting new efforts and technology at the California Department of Justice (DOJ) to support the timely processing of sexual assault evidence kits. Finally, the Attorney General is announcing support for a package of legislation aimed at improving access to resources for those affected by crime or the loss of a loved one.

“At the California Department of Justice, we’re leveraging all of the tools of this department to stand up for victims, survivors, and their families,” said Attorney General Bonta. “There is no way to undo the harms of sexual assault or violence, but we’re committed to helping survivors find healing and justice. We’re issuing new guidance, stepping up our ability to lead change, strengthening our forensic capabilities, and pushing for statewide legislation. Together, our forensic scientists, victim advocates, lawyers, and special agents are working every day on behalf of the people of California. To all those who have been affected by crime, we’ve got your back today, tomorrow, and always.”

Guidance for Survivors of Sexual Assault

If you or someone you love has been the victim of a sexual assault, California offers free sexual assault forensic medical exams and support for survivors. Sexual assault forensic exams are designed to be performed by medical staff to gather evidence of a sexual assault and provide healthcare services. Both for medical and evidentiary purposes, the exam should occur as soon as possible and should be completed within five days of the assault. It is also important to remember that getting a forensic medical exam does not obligate you to participate in criminal justice proceedings. DOJ strongly encourages sexual assault survivors to obtain medical exams from trained professionals in order to help preserve their rights. A copy of the guidance shared today with additional information and resources is available here.

Taking Action to Support Partners and Process Sexual Assault Evidence

New Statewide Sexual Assault Evidence Coordinator Position
Attorney General Bonta is also today formally announcing the creation of a new statewide sexual assault evidence outreach coordinator position within DOJ’s Bureau of Forensic Services (BFS). As part of a broader effort to assist law enforcement agencies, public crime laboratories, and medical facilities with ensuring sexual assault evidence is processed for DNA, the coordinator, once hired, will — in conjunction with the Special Advisor to the Attorney General on Survivor Policy and Advocacy — work to identify and remove barriers to testing, connect law enforcement agencies in need of testing assistance with public crime labs and private vendor laboratories, and promote awareness of available resources.

Major Advancement in Sexual Assault Evidence Robotics
In addition, Attorney General Bonta is highlighting new, state-of-the-art robotics developed at DOJ to streamline the DNA analysis of sexual assault evidence. Following extensive method development and validation, BFS, which provides forensic services to 46 of the state’s 58 counties, is now able to fully automate a key method in sexual assault evidence testing known as differential extraction. Differential extraction primarily serves to separate sperm cells from other types of cells commonly present in sexual assault evidence, e.g., vaginal cells from the victim. It is a critical, initial step used to isolate the DNA of a suspected male offender from the DNA of a victim. Prior to the system being fully in place as of late last year at all of BFS’ DNA labs, forensic experts were required to manually conduct differential extraction, which is a time-intensive, laborious process. 

Initially, chemical agents are used to break down the non-sperm cells present in a mixed evidence sample and leave intact the more resilient sperm cells, which are then further treated to remove any residual non-sperm cell DNA. Additional chemical agents are subsequently used to break down the isolated sperm cells and recover the DNA of the suspected offender. If the sperm fraction of the sexual assault evidence sample yields sufficient DNA, the offender’s DNA profile may ultimately be uploaded to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which is the national database of DNA evidence, and used to develop potential investigative leads. This advancement is an important part of the DOJ’s ability to process sexual assault evidence for DNA within 120 days of receipt at the crime lab. In 2020 alone, California’s public crime labs completed DNA analysis on more than 5,700 sexual assault evidence kits statewide.

Supporting Legislation to Lift Up Those Affected by Crime or the Loss of a Loved One

Finally, Attorney General Bonta is announcing support for the following initial package of legislation aimed at supporting Californians:

  • Assembly Bill 1949 (Low): This bill would expand bereavement leave protections and coverage. Specifically, it requires private employers with five or more employees and public sector employers to provide employees with at least 30 days of service up to five unpaid days of bereavement leave upon the death of a family member.
  • Assembly Bill 2185 (Weber): This bill would provide parity for victims of domestic violence to — like victims of sexual assault — access free medical evidentiary exams, as well as protect the confidentiality of such exams. Domestic violence forensic medical exams are key to obtaining and preserving evidence of physical assault and connecting survivors to healthcare and other services.
  • Assembly Bill 2850 (Berman): This bill would create the California Sexual Assault Response Team Advisory Council to promote swift, coordinated, competent, and efficient sexual assault intervention in every county.
  • Senate Bill 914 (Rubio): Known as the Homeless Equity for Left Behind Populations (Help) Act, this bill would require cities and counties that receive state funds to address homelessness to incorporate the needs of domestic violence service providers and survivors into homelessness planning and responses.
  • Senate Bill 993 (Skinner): This bill would modernize and reform the California Victim Compensation Board and also establishes the Flexible Assistance for Survivors of Violence pilot grant program with the goal of improving safety, healing, and financial stability for survivors of violent acts, as well as the families of those violently injured or killed.
  • Senate Bill 1017 (Eggman): This bill would generally prohibit landlords from terminating or not renewing a lease based on an act of abuse or violence against a tenant, a tenant’s immediate family member, or a tenant’s household.
  • Senate Bill 1268 (Caballero): This bill would require the parent or guardian of a minor whose death is being investigated to be provided critical information regarding the investigation.
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