Politics

Kentucky has hundreds or possibly thousands of untested rape kits sitting in local law enforcement offices, according to State Auditor Adam Edelen.

Edelen on Wednesday announced he is auditing police and prosecutorial agencies to find out precisely how many kits haven’t been tested. His office also aims to find the cause for the backlog.

The backlog means DNA samples aren’t getting added to a national DNA database, potentially delaying or denying justice in some instances.

“We’re going to come up with a stone-cold count of the number of unprocessed rape kits in Kentucky and we’re going to reach out to other policy makers to make sure that what we have here is a system that works for victims and punishes the perpetrator,” Edelen said in a press conference on Wednesday.

A rape kit includes samples from hair, clothing, and cheek and vaginal swabs.

Local law enforcement and prosecutors offices are supposed to submit rape kits to a regional Kentucky State Police forensic center, but kits sometimes don’t get turned in, according to Gretchen Hunt a staff attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.

Adam EdelenFile photo

Adam Edelen

“We think there are steps along the way where people do not believe victims and they don’t investigate it and we do hear about those problems happening,” Hunt said after the press conference.

Hunt says one thing that could help move the process along is requiring agencies to keep victims updated on the status of their tests. She’s hopeful that the audit will bring rape cases to light in Kentucky.

About 20 percent of women in Kentucky have been raped, according to the Center 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.

“For those who do come forward, we in our society, I think, refuse to think rape happens as frequently as it does and so a lot of victims are not believed,” Hunt said

An official with Kentucky State Police said that the audit would help the agency apply for grant funding to speed up the process once a rape kit gets to a forensic lab.

Presently it takes about nine months to a year to enter samples from a rape kit into the FBI’s database of DNA profiles.

Earlier this year evidence from 6,600 untested rape kits in Houston produced 850 matches with perpetrators in the FBI database.

According to the Herald-Leader, the Kentucky State Police earlier this year reported there may be as many as 5,000 untested rape kits in the state.

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