Kansas says backlog of untested rape kits nearly eliminated

JOHN HANNA

TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — Kansas law enforcement agencies have nearly eliminated a backlog of 2,200 sexual assault kits that had gone untested, including some that dated back decades, authorities announced Thursday.

Agencies have had about 2,000 of the kits tested by forensic labs and the remaining 235 should be tested by the end of the month, the Kansas Bureau of Investigation said.

Officials said the additional testing allowed 373 biological profiles from the evidence to be entered into a computerized DNA database and resulted in 243 hits, which could provide leads to law enforcement agencies. Two cases linked to the rape kit testing have been successfully prosecuted and a third resulted in an acquittal, they said.

The bureau also announced it has launched a television and digital ad campaign and a new website to create greater public awareness about sexual assault.

"The health, well-being and vitality of Kansas depends on a zero-tolerance response to sexual violence," the KBI's executive officer Katie Whisman, who oversaw the effort to address the backlog of untested rape kits, said during a news conference. "Together, we can overcome rape culture."

Last year, the bureau recommended that all rape kits collected in the state go to forensic labs for testing, rather than having law enforcement agencies decide on a case-by-case basis whether to submit them. The KBI has four forensics labs, and there are county labs in the Kansas City and Wichita areas.

Whisman said agencies sometimes didn't submit kits because they worried about overtaxing forensics labs or they had questions about consent. But she said the kits should have been tested, anyway, because they could have shown links to other cases.

"What's important is we're telling local law enforcement agencies to make sure that they don't hold back their submissions," said KBI Director Kirk Thompson. "That's the policy guidance we're giving: Submit them all. We'll test them all."

Thompson said local law enforcement agencies have cooperated with the KBI's efforts, making a mandate unnecessary. Schmidt touted that collaborative approach but said after the news conference that it might be worth asking the Legislature next year to lock some policies into state law so authorities "don't have to relearn these lessons."

"For many victims and survivors to have this evidence move forward in this way is a form in and of itself," said Kathy Ray, advocacy director for the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. "They know that these cases are being taken seriously."

The KBI launched its effort in 2014 to determine how many sexual assault kits had been collected by law enforcement agencies but remained untested and received a $2 million federal grant in 2015 to tackle the issue.

A KBI working group concluded in 2017 that law enforcement agencies had more than 2,200 sexual assault kits that had not been tested, with the oldest collected in 1989.

In a report that year, the working group said a lack of training about the trauma experienced by sexual assault victims, a lack of trained officers and victims' advocates, the absence of a statewide policy and public misconceptions about rape contributed to the problem.

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