Washington state police have launched an online tracking system to help individuals monitor the progress of their rape kits after evidence gathering has taken place.
“The primary purpose behind this system is to help survivors get some answers,” said Police Chief John Batiste via press release.
Sexual assault victims in Washington have significant cause for concern when it comes to ensuring the progress of their evidence kits following reports of sexual assault, recent studies have shown.
An audit earlier this year from the state attorney general’s office showed there were 6,460 untested rape kits at 208 law enforcement agencies across the state. The total number of untested sexual assault kits is likely closer to 10,000, according to Larry Hebert, director of the WSP’s forensics laboratories.
“They weren’t able to reach out to every department,” he said.
Using a secure login, victims of sexual assault can check the status of their collection of evidence as it moves from hospital, to law enforcement agency, to crime lab, to prosecuting agency. The site will also allow medical staff, law enforcement and prosecutors to monitor progress using their own portals.
Last year, the federal government announced a $3 million grant for Washington to address the backlog. The funds were a portion of $34 million provided by the Department of Justice’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which sought to solve the problem in 20 jurisdictions nationwide.
Some of the $3 million has gone toward outsourcing untested rape kits for lab testing by a third party, Hebert said.
He said he hoped to be able to leverage additional funds from the state to increase capacity at Washington’s five forensic laboratories, as the crime labs remain strained under the massive quantity of DNA requests.
“We’re getting a huge volume of cases,” Hebert said, in part due to a 2015 state law that requires police departments to submit all of their rape kits.
Year to date, Washington’s crime labs received 253 rape kits per month, Hebert said, while their workforce can only process “about 70 to 80.”
“Basically we don’t have enough staff to keep up and address the backlog as well,” he said. “We’re falling behind.”
Hebert will be vying for additional state funding – in the ballpark of between $1 million to $2 million – during the upcoming legislative session to add staff, improve processes and build a new “high efficiency” lab that uses robotics and additional equipment like amplification instruments. He said this would enable them to process rape kits twice as fast.
“We need to build something new from the ground up,” he said.
In the meantime, officials believe the tracking system will help keep a clear inventory of sexual assault kits and provide some peace of mind to victims.
“It’s more for the victim than for anyone else,” Hebert said. “Instead of the victim wondering if anything is happening with their kit, they can see exactly what is going on.”