Florida bill would let victims track rape kit processing

A Florida rape victim whose sexual assault test kit went untested for more than 30 years told her powerful story before a House committee unanimously approved a bill Monday that would require a tracking system for the kits.

Gail Gardner was raped 1988 by an intruder in her home while her youngest son was in the room. She reported the crime and DNA evidence was taken during an exam.

But the kit wasn't processed until the state finished clearing a backlog of unprocessed evidence in 2019. Last November, she learned her attacker was linked to the sexual assaults of 15 other women.

"He was a serial rapist. I also learned that he had been in prison for most of the 32 years while I suffered and wondered if he would ever hurt me again," Gardner told lawmakers.

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The attacker is serving two life sentences, she said. She said for decades she lived in terror, not knowing where he was.

"It was not until 2015 that I could sleep straight through the night. I would be looking through the blinds, sleeping with the lights on and calling the police because of every strange, yet unfounded noise," she said. "I felt safer when I was outside of the home, or sleeping as a guest or at a hotel than sleeping in my own home."

While The Associated Press doesn't normally identify rape victims, Gardner is publicly telling her story. The legislation is called "Gail's Law."

The bill approved by the House Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee would require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to create a database available to victims so they can track the processing of rape test kits from the day evidence is taken throughout the testing process.

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Democratic Rep. Emily Slosberg, the bill's sponsor, said today's technology allows people to easily track package and food deliveries.

"Why should we be able to track a pizza more efficiently than we can track evidence in a criminal case? This is something that the state should already be doing," Slosberg said.

Florida began clearing a backlog of more than 8,000 unprocessed kits more than five years ago and finished the work in 2019. State law now requires the kits to be submitted for testing within 30 days and laboratories process them within 120 days.

The House bill has two more committee stops before being considered by the full chamber. A Senate bill has two more committee stops.