• New federal grant tackles backlog of processing sexual assault evidence

    By: Graham Johnson

    Updated:

    Before a sexual assault kit can be tested by the Washington State Patrol, a police department has to send it to the crime lab.

    A few years ago, State Rep. Tina Orwall (D-Des Moines) toured police evidence rooms and discovered a problem.

    "I started seeing these white boxes, they were stacked everywhere, sometimes to the ceiling," Orwall said.

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    They were sexual assault evidence kits that had never been tested and matched with a DNA database.

    Police might have caught the perpetrator another way, thought they didn't have a case, or lacked the resources to investigate.

    "As you can imagine, people probably assumed they were being tested," Orwall said.

    Turns out, 6,000 kits went untested in Washington.

    After Orwall got a bill passed in 2015 requiring all kits be tested, they came pouring in tointo the crime lab.

    Now, Orwall says a new $1.5 million federal grant, along with $3 million from the state, will help the testing backlog.

    “What we know now is when you test these kits not only is it seeking justice for that survivor, but it can show you if it's linked to other cases," Orwall said.

    Of the 97 kits tested so far, 30 percent were linked to other crimes in the FBI's DNA database.
    Much of the testing will be outsourced to another lab.

    Orwall hopes to get through the backlog in 18 months.

    "I feel so sad it ever happened and we're just trying to move forward and make it right," she said.

    The state hopes to launch a tracking system for sexual assault kits next year.

    Eventually, assault survivors should be able to log on to check the status of their kit.
     

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