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State survey shows 6,400 rape kits yet to be submitted

(AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

More than 6,400 rape kits from Washington state have not yet been submitted to a crime lab for testing, according to Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office.

The inventory data was collected from 208 law enforcement agencies across the state. They were booked into evidence, but not sent to a crime lab for DNA analysis. They remain in evidence storage, some for years. The AG’s office says the oldest untested kit dates back to 1982.

“Sexual assault survivors deserve justice,” Ferguson said in a news release. “Each sexual assault kit tells a story from a survivor that must be heard.”

Ferguson’s office was granted $3 million in October of 2017 to inventory the kits. It’s received 25 percent of the funding and can request the remainder from the Bureau of Justice Assistance now that the inventory of unsubmitted kits is complete.

There are two types of backlogs in testing rape kits, according to Ferguson’s office. The first is the backlog of submitted kits sitting in evidence “because a DNA analysis was never requested.” The second is the backlog at at crime labs that haven’t been tested yet.

Local law enforcement can use DNA evidence to reopen cold case once the kits are tested. The AG’s office said, in once case, a suspect was charged with child rape more than 10 years after the crime.

Part of the issue is many of the new positions at the Washington State Patrol crime lab have been tough to fill – and keep filled — because it takes 2-3 years to train the scientists. Private labs pay better. Some staff complete the training and choose a better-paying job at a private lab.

The other issue is the time it takes to do rape kit testing in Washington. Older kits, which are sent to private labs, take at least a year. New kits take nearly two years unless they’re put on a rush, which still takes months.

Washington State Representative Tina Orwall believes the solution to the backlog may be in Ohio, a state that cleared its own massive backlog of rape kits this year.

“It was like 15,000 kits and I think they got through them in five years, and having just come back from Ohio I can tell you they took their time down from like 125 days down to like 25 days on all their cases, including sexual assault kits,” Orwall said.

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KIRO Radio’s Hanna Scott contributed to this report.

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