Following through on a resolution passed unanimously by Kentucky’s General Assembly in March, state Auditor Adam Edelen announced at a press conference today that he will initiate a statewide count of untested rape kits currently in the possession of law enforcement — a backlog estimated to be in the hundreds, if not thousands.
Edelen said his office will go beyond just counting the backlog of rape kits, which consist of DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims that can be used to identify a suspect. The auditor’s office also will analyze why certain kits are never sent to Frankfort for testing by local agencies, looking at best practices in other states, and offering recommendations to reform how such evidence is handled in the future.
“The ultimate goal of this effort is to identify perpetrators of sexual violence who have been walking free and bring justice to their survivors,” said Edelen. “Fixing this system so this problem doesn’t happen again will be the next priority.”
Edelen added that once the count is completed — possibly by early fall — the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratory can pursue millions of dollars in grants through the federal government and nonprofit foundations to clear their backlog. Last summer, Kentucky State Police Lab System Director Laura Sudkamp told Insider Louisville that the current backlog of rape kits at their lab alone is estimated to be roughly 500; the national estimate is 100,000.
The count will be conducted through surveys sent to more than 400 local law enforcement agencies; the surveys also will determine whether those local agencies have procedures in place on how they are supposed to handle such evidence, and why some rape kits are not sent to the KSP lab in Frankfort. In addition, Edelen’s office plans to examine staffing and equipment resources at the KSP lab, as it currently takes between six and nine months to test rape kits.
Edelen noted that other areas such as Detroit have recently put a dent in their rape kit backlog and identified multiple rapists through finding a match in the national database. Michelle Kuiper, a rape survivor from Louisville, told her story about how evidence from her rape kit led to the conviction of a serial rapist many years after the original crime.
Gretchen Hunt, an attorney for the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, noted that 20 percent of Kentucky women have been raped and nearly half have been the victim of sexual violence.
“This count of untested rape kits sends such a clear message to survivors that you matter, that we believe as a society that rape is a serious crime deserving great attention,” said Hunt. “That we believe you, and that you should find justice when you have the courage to come forward.”
Edelen noted while he expects full cooperation from local law enforcement agencies — including university campus police departments — his office would have subpoena power if any did not do so. He said it was too soon to say whether he would recommend legislation requiring local agencies to turn over all rape kits to KSP or increasing lab funding to decrease the backlog, but he did not rule it out.
“Public safety is critical to good government,” said Edelen. “Everybody says that victims matter, and we’re going to review the system and present recommendations for making it better… and then we’re going to reach out to other policymakers to make sure that what we have here is a system that works for victims and punishes the perpetrator.”