‘I have lots of angry words’: Why have thousands of rape kits gone untested in Missouri?

A new Missouri law requires police departments to submit rape kits to a lab within 14 days.
A new Missouri law requires police departments to submit rape kits to a lab within 14 days. File photo

Do not tell a survivor of rape that her state’s police departments, crime labs and hospitals are holding a stash of 4,889 untested rape kits.

Not on the same day that one of the two men accused of raping her, pleaded guilty in the rape of another woman, a Johnson County sheriff’s deputy.

One brave Kansas City mother heard this traumatizing news Thursday.

The two men were charged in both attacks because this woman insisted on having a rape kit completed and tested after her hours-long attack, which occurred in February of 2016 when her toddler daughter was beside her.

“I have lots of angry words,” she said. “I want to know why these kits have not been tested. How many cases were never investigated? How many rapists are still out there committing crimes, unafraid?”

Every Missourian should share her outrage.

Attorney General Josh Hawley’s preliminary report on untested rape kits is a strong, yet troubling start.

Only 266 of the state’s law enforcement agencies — fewer than half — responded to the survey. Five crime labs and 66 health care providers also responded. But the limited responses suggest that there are far more than 4,889 untested rape kits.

The Kansas City Police Department’s crime lab had the longest reported average turnaround time at 211 days. The average was 98 days.

Untested kits hinder law enforcement’s ability to catch sexual offenders. Criminals have time to attack additional victims each day a kit sits untested.

Missouri must follow through on the action items in the report: additional funding for testing, developing a statewide tracking system, aligning standards for how the kits are gathered, stored and processed, along with improving training to understand the trauma of sexual assault.

The top reasons that police gave to explain why they do not test kits are alarming: Victim non-cooperation (49 percent), followed by victim was found not to be credible, or no apparent crime was committed (46 percent).

If women do not feel they will be believed by law enforcement, if they think that their rape kit will go untested, why would they cooperate?

Victims sometimes have a kit completed at a hospital but then decide not to follow through with a police investigation. Yet those kits could contain DNA samples that would link to another victim, leading to an arrest.

In 2015, Kansas City was one of five major cities that received grants to address untested rape kits, which at the time the police department said numbered 1,324. But the grant was only for two years.

To understand the devastating impact of sexual assault in Missouri, grasp these numbers. There were 869 rape kits tested in Missouri in 2017, and that’s just through the crime labs that responded, a small slice of the kits that await processing.

The goal for Missouri must be to test every kit, creating a web of forensic information so that rapists no longer have the upper hand in avoiding arrest while they hunt more victims.