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Thousands of rape kits gathering dust will now get tested

(AP)

The thousands of untested rape kits that have been sitting on evidence shelves for years in our state will soon be a thing of the past.

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Ten thousand untested rape kits, have gathered dust on evidence shelves for years, and in some cases decades. They were discovered in 2014 but progress was slow.

For years a team made up of a handful of lawmakers, law enforcement, and sexual assault survivors worked tirelessly to change that, and this year that work finally paid off, as the legislature made clearing the rape kit backlog a priority, getting a bill to the governor’s desk.

“Today I was honored to sign HB 1166, which is an important next step in our efforts to end the backlog of untested rape kits and ensure better support of sexual assault survivors,” Gov. Inslee said on Twitter.

The governor signed a bill Tuesday that finally requires every one of those kits be sent for testing, and that the testing be completed in two years. It creates a new high tech lab, and hires more staff.

The hope is to cut testing time of future kits down from more than a year, to just six weeks. The bill also ensures rape victims can get a rape kit at no cost, includes new training for police who deal with victims, and puts a moratorium on destroying untested kits, no matter how old they are.

When Gov. Inslee signed the bill, it was an emotional moment for everyone who worked so hard over the past five years to get it done, including the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall.

“It’s hard to find words — so many survivors we let down, we can tell today ‘no more.’ There will never be a kit sitting on a shelf untested in this state again,” said Rep. Orwall. “We will seek justice for survivors like we should have years ago. I’m just so proud everyone came together to make this happen.”

For sexual assault survivors like Leah Griffen, this sends a strong message, and helps provide some closure.

“For years, the evidence of possibly the worst thing that’s ever happened to us just sat forgotten on a shelf,” said Griffen. “And now, we know that the state says, ‘this is important, what happened to you matters, your pain is valid, and we’re going to do a complete and thorough investigation.'”

Unfortunately, news that all these kits had sat untested for years had sent a message to many rape victims that had many believing nobody cared.

But Leah has a new message for anyone who has not come forward.

“There are champions like Tina Orwall out here, that are tearing down barriers; that are reforming the system, in radical, and important ways, and while we still aren’t done yet, what happened to you matters,” she said.

State Patrol Captain Monica Alexander helped craft the bill, and said that it’s a huge step forward for public safety.

“It’s about safe communities. It’s about getting people off the street that shouldn’t be there: People that have been free to continue rape, or walk free after they’ve raped someone for years. It’s about stopping that,” said Alexander.

As for what comes next?

“Work,” she noted. “There’s a lot of work to be done, but getting our scientists to actually have the tools that they need to do the work is important. The people in our Vancouver lab are passionate about their work, but they need the tools. They’re standing by; they’re ready to go. ”

The next steps will be to get the new lab up and running in the months ahead, get all of the old kits sent for testing by October, have them completed by 2021.

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