Local woman is impetus behind legislation in Congress to increase access to rape kits

SEATTLE -- Victims of sexual assault are told to rush and get a rape kit so that law enforcement will have the evidence to help get justice.

But oftentimes, according to rape survivors, there are hurdles in getting that rape kit and medical care quickly after an assault.

One Seattle woman's harrowing experience has now become motivation to change things nationwide.

“I think worse in some way than my perpetrator never being held to account is the way I was treated after my assault was almost criminal,” rape survivor Leah Griffin said.

Griffin says after she was raped, she took herself to a major hospital in Seattle for help.

“I walked in and told them what happened and they said we don’t do rape kits here,” Griffin said.

By the time she got a rape kit done at another hospital, Griffin says, the evidence in her case was somewhat contaminated.

“I felt really betrayed,” Griffin said.

Betrayed but emboldened to change things.

“According to the International Association of Forensics Nurses no more than 14% to 17% of emergency rooms in this country has full access to rape kits,” Griffin said.

The situation shocked Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

“Actually, when Leah told me it happened to her I couldn’t hardly believe it; (I thought) if you were raped, you can go to any place and they can help you -- and I was shocked to find that's not true,” Murray said.

Griffin’s traumatic struggles became the driving force to increase access to rape kits across the country with legislation first introduced in 2016.

“Not much happened,” Griffin said.

But this year supporters say it will be different.

“We are doing it with bipartisan effort,” Murray said, specifically mentioning Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska as one of the supporters.

“Fortunately now, since the Me Too movement, we have a huge shift in the culture and society's willingness to prioritize issues that are faced by survivors,” Griffin said.

Murkowski on Thursday told reporters that victims in rural areas often do not have the proper access to rape kits.

“Sitting and sleeping in the clothes that you’ve just been sexually assaulted (in), these are horror stories, but they are real-life stories,” Murkowski said.

Stories that are hard to tell but Griffin has become the face of that pain so that no one is ever turned away. Griffin stayed anonymous when she shared her stories until this year. Now she is front and center, even being invited to be in the crowd at the president's State of Union Address in February.

“We don’t know where rape kits are available, we don’t know, so we want to do as part of the bill is have each state do a survey of hospitals in their state,” Griffin said.

The Survivor’s Access to Supportive Care Act is projected to cost $18 million over five years.

Q13 News have reported before about the historical backlog of rape kits.

Washington State Patrol says anywhere between 7,000 to 10,000 rape kits still have yet to be processed in this state.

As law enforcement tries to catch up on those older rape kits, a 2015 state law now requires every new rape kit to be processed immediately.