For TNL: RED ZONE: 3,400 and counting – Untested rape kits discovered in statewide audit

Alaska, News, Print, Uncategorized

Originally published in The Northern Light

In the fall of 2015, Governor Bill Walker ordered the states law enforcement agencies to release the number of untested rape kits in their inventory. Of the 52 agencies in the state, 17 facilities reported their inventory. The reported inventory brought the total to 3,400 untested rape kits, and counting. Of the 3,400, 1,691 untested kits were reported at the Anchorage Police Department, some being decades old.

Some reasons a kit might be in storage and not processed is if a victim asks to not be tested, if the sexual assault was a false report, or if the victim is deceased.

“We have been requested in the past from outside entities to say do you know what your current backlog is, are there any ways we might be able to alleviate those and getting a firm answer from anyone was incredibly difficult. It really took an action of the governor to be able to find out how many,” Keeley Olson, Executive Director at Standing Together Against Rape (STAR), said. “The whole idea of sexual assault is that someones power has been completely taken away from them; and the idea of advocacy and empowerment is to give them options.”

In the case of a sexual assault on campus, the University Police Department collects evidence for a rape kit, then sends it to the crime lab. UPD had no untested rape kits in their storage at the time of the audit.

“Like any other agency, if we have a sexual assault, we have a kit. Once we collect it, we give it to our evidence guy and he transports it to the state crime lab. We deal with it like everyone else does,” Lieutenant Michael Beckner of UPD said.

Rape kits hold evidence that is collected from the victim, then examined at the crime lab in hopes of finding a perpetrator. The DNA held in rape kits are often missing pieces in larger criminal cases.

Victims are encouraged to go through with the examination and DNA collection, in hopes to find justice for the victim and other possible victims. Of course, an adult is not required, and has the right to abstain from the examination.

“We would not make a victim do anything they don’t wish to do and they would make that choice. Our responsibility is to educate the about preserving evidence and to understand that there is a time frame to preserve evidence. We would want to make sure that a person understands what that means for the long term,” Bridgett Dooley, Director and Title IX Coordinator said.

The problem of rape kit backlog expands past the state of Alaska and is a national issue. Few state governments track rape kit backlog, and no federal entity tracks rape kit backlog.

Legislation is currently being crafted by the Governor in hopes to bring every law agency accountable for their untested rape kits on site.

That legislation will be will be introduced by the governor in the next legislative session and will require a state wide audit and hold a fiscal note to hire investigators and prosecutors for cases identified.

The state has applied for a federal grant to help finance processing for the untested kits. The state will hear back if they received the grant at the end of the month. It will take years to process the untested rape kits.

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