With roughly 6,000 rape kits still untested, lawmakers in Washington state are making major changes. The current process used to gather evidence in rape cases is not enough. For that reason, lawmakers will be implementing a system in which the results of rape examinations will be tracked from beginning to end. Simply put, the tracking begins at the hospital and moves through to the laboratory and then on to law enforcement agencies.
Last week, the Legislature approved a bill in which a statewide electronic tracking system will be used in Washington state. This system used specifically for sexual assault forensic exams, otherwise referred to as ‘rape kits”, will make a significant difference in fighting crime. At this time, Washington is the only state that will have a completely unified system.
People who support the bill say that it will allow survivors of rape situations to track events pertaining to their case. However, this electronic system will also help identify issues that might allow a test to go untested.
As stated by Representative Tina Orwall, lawmakers were unaware that so many thousands of tests were just sitting on the self. Richard Williams, a policy specialist with the National Conference of State Legislatures said that such a tracking system is unique, especially since it is so specific to the law.
The tracking system, which will use bar codes on rape kits will be the first of its kind. As outlined in the bill, all involved agencies must be fully engaged no later than June 1, 2018.
Each rape kit contains various tools used to collect samples of DNA, as well as other evidence taken from victims. Police departments and hospitals throughout Washington state then stock the kits. Although rape kits are supposed to be processed immediately, unfortunately thousands still sit idle.
With the current system, many kits have never been sent for testing, even in situations where victims knew their attackers or when individuals admitted to having committed a crime. Because of this, DNA samples have not been entered into various DNA databases. This has prevented criminals from being arrested with many free to commit again.
This new bill follows a bill passed last year by lawmakers whereby law enforcement agencies are required to ask for testing on all rape kits collected after July 2015. While some agencies use bar codes and have tracking systems, until now, no unified system has been in place.