The Legislature must address both the old and new backlogs in rape-kit testing.
Clearing Washington’s backlog of old sexual assault evidence kits is an urgent state priority to provide justice for survivors who have been waiting for years.
Three years ago, the Legislature voted to invest money and other resources at clearing the DNA testing backlog. Yet, more than 6,400 rape kits collected before 2015 remain unprocessed. And new cases are starting to pile up.
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This is not acceptable. Both backlogs must be addressed, quickly and efficiently. Until that happens, thousands of victims who experienced the horror of rape, followed by an uncomfortable hospital medical exam to gather evidence,have no chance at justice or the closure they deserve.
The legislative champion of this work, Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, has proposed House Bill 1166 that would improve processing times for rape kits, with updated equipment and new protocols, and mandate testing of new kits within 45 days.
Orwall notes that Oregon and Ohio both have cleared their rape-kit backlogs using the same kind of modern equipment and approaches. The start-up price tag of near $30 million includes some federal dollars. Even though the state has many budget demands, lawmakers should prioritize the rape kit project and fund it.
An assault last year in Tumwater underscores the urgency in a horrifying way. Tumwater police say a woman was raped on Jan. 22, 2018, the day before they received the DNA testing results from a rape evidence kit collected six months earlier. DNA test results linked both attacks to the same man.
So far, Washington has already identified three serial rapists from testing of the rape-kit evidence collected before 2015. DNA from about one in four of the tested kits has been connected to at least one other case in the national database.
As more DNA results are uploaded, thousands more women could see their cases move closer toward resolution. And once the Vancouver, Wash., lab is modernized and expanded, new evidence kits will be processed quickly and information uploaded to a national database almost instantaneously.
The bill also establishes a “compassionate bill of rights” for every survivor: No man or woman would have to pay for a rape kit; and survivors would be able to consult with a sexual-assault advocate and be notified of test results. Law enforcement also would be trained in trauma-informed approaches to better support survivors.
The House Public Safety Committee has approved House Bill 1166, but it awaits action in the House Appropriations Committee.
Chair Timm Ormsby, D-Spokane, should hold a hearing and pass it out as soon as possible.