Politics

More than 3,000 rape kits are sitting untested in Kentucky’s state and local law enforcement offices, according to State Auditor Adam Edelen.

In a report released Monday, Edelen said law enforcement agencies have failed to enter DNA evidence from rape kits into the FBI’s national DNA database, which can match DNA profiles and help identify an attacker’s identity or link an attacker to previous crimes.

“The results of this initiative are stomach-turning,” Edelen said in a released statement on Monday.

“When a victim has the courage to undergo an invasive and traumatizing exam after an assault, he or she deserves to have the evidence in that sexual assault kit analyzed. One of government’s fundamental responsibilities is to bring these rapists to justice.”

The auditor’s report said the number of untested rape kits stems in part from communication issues and a lack of resources.

A rape kit includes hair, fingernail scrapings and biological evidence from a victim’s body that can be tested for DNA. Rape kit exams are usually conducted at hospitals, logged into law enforcement agencies’ property evidence rooms and then may be sent to the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory.

But no law requires law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits to the state forensic lab for analysis.

According to the auditor’s report, 41 percent of law enforcement agencies don’t submit all rape kits to the state forensic office.

The report says that “confusing communications” from the state forensic laboratory has contributed to fewer kits being submitted.

The auditor’s report notes that the KSP Forensic Laboratory’s Physical Evidence Collection Guide  — a document that the lab gives out to local law enforcement —  advises local agencies against “overloading the system.”

“The statement advises law enforcement not to overload the system; rather, to carefully decide which pieces of evidence it deems relevant. This may be viewed as contrary to statements by KSP that it wants law enforcement to submit all sexual assault kits for analysis,” the report said.

In local stakeholder meetings conducted this summer, local law enforcement confirmed they didn’t submit some evidence because “they were aware of the backlog and did not want to delay testing on evidence they deemed a higher priority, such as homicide evidence,” the auditor’s report said.

According to the report, one prosecutor stated, “I don’t want to wait six months for one (evidence analysis report) I need because I’m submitting kits I don’t need.” A sheriff’s deputy said, “We’ve been trained: Don’t send what you don’t need.”

Because so many of the exams go untested, the forensic lab misses opportunities to connect suspects to additional crimes, the report states.

There were 1,859 untested rape kits in 87 police departments and sheriffs’ offices and another 1,231 untested kits at the state forensic lab, according to the report.

The most untested kits came from Louisville Metro Police, Lexington Police and Newport Police, with 1,320, 315 and 163, respectively.

About 20 percent of women in Kentucky have been raped, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey. About 47 percent have been victims of other types of sexual violence.

Eight-Month Turnaround

It currently takes about eight months for a rape kit to be tested once it’s submitted to the state forensic lab.

The report said that limited resources, state budget cuts and recruitment and retention of lab employees have contributed to the long turnaround time.

Adam EdelenFile photo

Adam Edelen

Edelen said that the KSP lab needs to become more efficient and the legislature needs to increase funds for the program.

“Investment is a precondition for improving the system,” Auditor Edelen said. “In the digital age, no elected official can claim the mantle of ‘tough on crime’ without adequately funding the state crime lab.”

Edelen also recommended that the legislature pass laws requiring local law enforcement to submit rape kits within 10 days of putting them into evidence, and for the state lab to test kits within 90 days of receipt.

In a statement, Gretchen Hunt, of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, said that knowing kits will be tested in a timely manner would encourage more victims to report crimes.

“Victims of sexual assault deserve to be believed, to have access to safe exams, to have their kits submitted, their cases investigated, a coordinated team on their side and their day in court to seek justice,” Hunt said.

Here’s the full report:

This story will be updated.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.