Immediately after a rape, the assaulted person is a living, breathing crime scene.
Bits of hair, flesh and swabs of other evidence must be gathered and analyzed as part of a sexual assault forensic medical exam, colloquially referred to as a “rape kit.” It’s an hours-long and often re-traumatizing experience for the person who has already endured an assault.
Rape kits should be handled with care for that reason alone, in addition to the scientific clues they could hold for a conviction.
Until last month, Missouri was among the states failing victims.
Yet pinpointing the number of untested kits must pair with understanding how the backlog developed. New policies and funding will be needed to prevent a repeat of these problems in the future.
A lack of storage facilities might be an issue. And nothing within Missouri law mandates how long the kits should be held.
It’s possible that one jurisdiction might not process evidence or even destroy evidence that could be helpful in another city if the same perpetrator attacked again.
Kansas discovered a backlog of 2,220 kits, with the oldest dating back to 1989. A lack of training, resources, policy and societal awareness were to blame.
For Hawley, a state-wide collaborative group organized by the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence will be a good partner. They’ve been meeting for nearly two years, identifying a range of issues.
Just calling for all kits to be tested might overwhelm current labs, undercutting relatively quick turnaround times. Issues of consent will have to be resolved, and improved policies will needed for processing kits when the victim wishes to remain anonymous.
The goal, however, is clear. Missouri must develop a system to support victims and give law enforcement the best chance of finding and convicting those who are guilty of sexual assault.