There are at least 4,889 untested rape kits across the state of Missouri, according to a preliminary report released by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office Thursday.
The report states that the attorney general's office received survey responses from 266 law enforcement agencies, five crime labs and 66 health care providers to help determine the extent of the problem. It’s unclear how many agencies didn’t respond to the survey.
“Every rape kit reflects an extraordinary sacrifice by a survivor and an extraordinary opportunity for law enforcement,” the report says. “Yet in Missouri — as in many other states across the nation — thousands of (sexual assault kits) have never been submitted for DNA testing.”
Rape kits include DNA samples and other evidence taken during medical exams after an attack. They can be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to catch and convict rapists, and are particularly helpful to investigators if an attacker has multiple victims.
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The report says that agencies across the state are inconsistent in how long they keep kits and how quickly they test them. The attorney general's office found that of the agencies that responded to the survey, 123 reported a retention policy that is consistent with federal guidance: retain kits for the length of the statute of limitations or 20 years, whichever is shorter.
Additionally, not all law enforcement agencies notify victims before they destroy the untested kits. The report found that using state crime labs to test all the untested kits could take five years.
Hawley’s office suggests securing more funding to start testing the backlog of kits; creating a statewide tracking system for untested kits; increasing training for law enforcement and others involved in sexual assault investigations; and creating uniform statewide standards for collecting, retaining and submitting kits.
In April, the state legislature gave the Attorney General’s Office authority to apply for a $3 million federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant. The office has applied for the grant and continues to work with stakeholders to develop uniform state practices for the handling and processing of sexual assault evidence kits, according to a news release.
“From a law enforcement perspective, any rape kit that goes untested means a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting sex criminals remains unutilized — and a rapist remains on the streets,” Hawley said in a news release.
“From an individual perspective, any kit that goes untested means a survivor is denied the justice they so deserve. We must do all in our power to eliminate this problem in Missouri and work to better track evidence that will help identify perpetrators.”