LOCAL NEWS

Washington AG’s new website shines in massive rape kit backlog effort

Apr 7, 2020, 7:03 AM | Updated: 10:32 am
rape kit, rape kits, Torchlight...
Washington continues to work on clearing its backlog of rape kits. (AP)
(AP)

In 2018, State Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office was able to finally get a full inventory of the number of backlogged rape kits in Washington through the state’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI).

Thousands of rape kits gathering dust will now get tested

The numbers were staggering. Some 10,000 old kits of sexual assault victims had not been tested, most still sitting on evidence shelves, the oldest from 1982.

That kicked the ongoing effort to clear the rape kit backlog into high gear with the AG, lawmakers like Democratic Rep. Tina Orwall in the Legislature and others, including survivors, teaming up on the effort.

With help from the Legislature, there’s been significant progress with roughly half those old kits now tested. Ferguson announced this week his office more than $2 million in federal SAKI grant dollars to put toward testing. That testing is starting now with 52 backlogged kits in Kent that date back to 2003.

Ferguson also launched a new website Friday to ensure transparency as those backlogged kits are tested, both for survivors and the public.

“It provides transparency to the public about the progress that local law enforcement and the state are making to complete the backlog,” Ferguson explained. “I’m a firm believer that if you want to solve a problem, daylight it, [and] put it out there so everybody can see, ‘hey’ what’s the backlog? What’s the progress?’ That’s important.”

But is also meant to help survivors, who will be able to see a list of various resources for sexual assault victims and access those resources and also be able to see exactly what is happening with their own rape kit.

The website provides a centralized hub for services and resources available to sexual assault survivors across the state. Anyone with questions about the status of their backlogged sexual assault kit can call 833-753-0900 for more information.

On top of getting justice and closure for sexual assault survivors, Ferguson says testing the backlogged kits also is critical for public safety.

So far, of the just over 4,500 backlogged kits the state has tested, nearly 1,700 have been entered into CODIS, the national DNA evidence database. Of those, 690 have come back with a hit matching DNA evidence from a kit to other DNA in the database, such as DNA from a known offender.

“Every hit we get from backlogged kits is a step closer to justice for survivors of sexual assault,” Ferguson said. “We’re already getting matches there was a cold case from more than a decade ago of an offense that was committed here in Seattle, the rape of a young girl, and as a result of having an old sexual assault kit tested and entered into that database, we got a match and can now go forward with the prosecution.”

That’s why he also requested money in the budget for a cold case unit in his office to dedicate to the work of investigating those cases of backlogged kits that get a hit.

State’s solution to backlog of rape kits could be in Ohio

Instead, the Legislature gave the money to law enforcement, which Ferguson says will still help address those cold cases.

Now, he says it is equally important to funding for prosecuting those cold cases.

For now, he’s happy with the ongoing progress, while the additional testing can get done through the grant and the new website.

The Crime Lab expects to meet the legal requirement to complete testing on all kits collected July 2015 and earlier by the end of 2021. The Crime Lab estimates the entire backlog will be fully tested by mid-2022.

Follow Hanna Scott on Twitter or email her

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Washington AG’s new website shines in massive rape kit backlog effort