Attorney general: Wash. rape kit backlog has been cleared

Oct 26, 2023, 7:40 PM

rape kits...

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

(Photo courtesy of KIRO 7)

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced Thursday the last of more than 10,000 sexual assault kits have been cleared from shelves and sent to labs for testing.

Some of the kits had been gathering dust in hospital, law enforcement and university security storage rooms since the 1980s.

State Rep. Tina Orwall, a Democrat in the 33rd district, who first had a bill to address this issue in 2015, said a system is now in place for the state to test every sexual assault kit within 45 days.

“For survivors, I just want to say we’re sorry we failed you and we’re working hard to make sure that never happens again,” Orwall said.

The attorney general’s office reports that clearing the backlog and testing the kits has helped solve at least 21 sexual assault cases.

“At one point, there were close to 10,000 sexual assault kits that were sitting on shelves across the state,” Washington State Patrol (WSP) spokesman Chris Loftis told KIRO Newsradio in September.

Ferguson on state’s rape kit dilemma: State attorney general’s website shines in massive rape kit effort

“One-hundred percent have been sent to the labs, 98% have been tested, and we’ve got 86% have been reviewed,” Loftis said previously. The expectation is they will be fully processed by the end of the year.

Washington is not the only state with a backlog, but in 2019, Washington lawmakers increased funding for processing rape kits, which Loftis claimed was key.

“We had to increase the capacity of our systems, and that includes technology, that includes the equipment, it also includes more forensic scientists and more lab space for them to work in,” he explained.

He said Washington also utilized labs in other states in order to get the backlog cleared even faster.

Rape kits are used to collect DNA evidence that can identify a suspect, and Loftis stated that’s why processing them is so important.

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“Our job is to catch the people who are doing bad things, exonerate those who’ve been accused of something that they were innocent of, and it’s to offer dignity and care and compassion to the victims of the most horrendous crimes that we deal with,” Loftis continued.

Backlogs of rape kits are an issue nationwide, as The Joyful Heart Foundation estimates, “hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police department and crime lab storage facilities across the country,” according to End the Backlog.

An “untested” or “unsubmitted” rape kit is defined as one that has not been submitted to an accredited public or private crime lab for testing within 30 days of being booked into evidence, while a “backlogged” kit is defined as one located at a DNA testing lab but has not been tested within 30 days of receipt by the lab.

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“Testing of these backlogged rape kits has resulted in the identification of more than 1,300 suspected serial rapists,” End the Backlog wrote on its website. “These serial offenders, linked to kits in just three cities, have committed crimes across at least 40 states and Washington, D.C. They have not just committed rape—many have been linked to other violent crimes as well.”

Loftis said the turnaround time for current rape kits in Washington is now 45 days, increasing the odds that a rapist will be caught more quickly and decreasing the chance that the state will ever face such a big backlog of untested rape kits again.

Editors’ note: This story originally was published Sept. 12 and updated with new information on Oct. 26.

Contributing: Steve Coogan and Frank Sumrall, MyNorthwest

Follow Heather Bosch on X, formerly known as Twitter, or email her here.

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