State Auditor Adam Edelen released his office’s report counting untested rape kits in Kentucky on Monday, finding that 1,859 kits were never sent by local law enforcement to the Kentucky State Police laboratory for testing, and an additional 1,231 kits submitted to the lab have not yet been tested.
The count of untested rape kits — which consist of DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims that can be used to identify a suspect — was initiated by a resolution passed by the state legislature in March, but Edelen went further by analyzing why such a large backlog existed and making recommendations to reform how such evidence is handled.
The report by the auditor’s office found breakdowns in every step of the process, from the time victims undergo the exam at a hospital, to failures of local agencies to send all rape kits to the KSP lab in Frankfort, to long delays at the lab itself for the kits to be analyzed.
“The results of this initiative are stomach-turning,” Edelen said in a press release. “When a victim has the courage to undergo an invasive and traumatizing exam after an assault, he or she deserves to have the evidence in that sexual assault kit analyzed. One of government’s fundamental responsibilities is to bring these rapists to justice.”
Edelen’s office surveyed 391 law enforcement agencies for the report, including interviews and 14 meetings across the state with victims’ advocates, prosecutors and nurses, in addition to police. Nearly 41 percent of law enforcement agencies reported they do not submit all rape kits to KSP for analysis, with most lacking clear policies for how such evidence is handled. Additionally, 11 percent of these agencies indicated they do not submit a kit for testing if they do not have a suspect, despite the fact that the national DNA database CODIS could determine their identity.
Among Edelen’s recommendations are that local law enforcement agencies be required to submit nearly all kits for analysis within 10 days of being placed in evidence, in addition to training and the adoption of clear polices for dealing with sexual assault.
The Louisville Metro Police Department had by far the largest backlog of untested kits in its possession among law enforcement local agencies, with 923 — nearly equal to that of the rest of agencies in the state, combined. Though some of these kits date all the way back to 1970, the report states that in 2013, LMPD found 300 kits that were supposed to be sent to KSP in the previous two years but were not.
These statistics from Louisville stand out compared to Kentucky’s second-largest city, as the Lexington Police Department had zero untested kits in its possession. Over half of the untested rape kits housed at KSP’s lab were sent from Louisville and Lexington, numbering 397 and 315, respectively. Though having a population of just over 15,000, the Newport Police Department is in possession of 158 untested rape kits, with only five sent to KSP that have not been tested.
Counties neighboring Louisville had varying numbers for untested rape kits. Police departments in Oldham County and LaGrange had a combined four untested rape kits, while Taylorsville in Spencer County had none in its possession. However, the Nelson County Sheriff’s Office and Bardstown Police Department have 63 untested kits in their possession and only two sent to KSP that have not yet been analyzed, while the Shepherdsville Police Department in Bullitt County has 30 kits and only one at KSP.
The auditor’s report also found long turnaround times at KSP’s laboratory for the kits that are submitted, as in 2014 the average time such evidence took to be analyzed once received was eight months, far greater than other states and trending toward increasing even more.
“Many of these rapists are walking the streets while the evidence needed to put them behind bars collects dust,” said Edelen. “When a neighboring state can turn around this same evidence in less than 20 days, we can and must do better.”
Limited resources and state budget cuts are significant factors behind such delays — which are longer than neighboring states — and Edelen recommended both increased efficiency and increased funding by the state General Assembly.
“Investment is a precondition for improving the system,” said Edelen. “In the digital age, no elected official can claim the mantle of ‘tough on crime’ without adequately funding the state crime lab.”
Edelen’s report also found that Kentucky does not have enough trained sexual assault nurse examiners, as 61 percent of the hospitals surveyed indicated there is no such nurse on staff.
Eileen Recktenwald — the executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs, a coalition of 13 rape crisis centers around the state — applauded the auditor’s report for shining a light on the rape kit backlog, noting that the Center for Disease Control estimates 20 percent of Kentucky women have been raped and 48 percent have experienced sexual violence.
“Knowing that kits will be tested in a timely manner will encourage more victims to report crimes of sexual violence and remain engaged in the investigation and prosecution,” said Recktenwald, adding that Edelen’s recommendations “will make our entire commonwealth safer.”
KSP recently received a $1.9 million grant from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is to assist in tackling the the current rape kit backlog.
“The net effect is that there are a number of perpetrators who will be brought to justice as a result of these efforts,” said Edelen. “But if we don’t get to the bottom of why the kits were not tested in the first place, we are going to be right back here five years from now counting kits all over again. I am determined to not let that happen in the commonwealth.”