Washington state begins process of testing thousands of rape kits

Thousands of rape victims in our state could finally be getting the justice they have long been denied.

Washington state is gearing up to begin processing an estimated 10,000 rape kits which should put their attackers on notice, too.

The state just won a $1,500,000 federal grant to process the rape kits.

Leah Griffin is considered a hero among rape survivors, brave enough to tell her own traumatic story. But she says she was moved to act because no one else would.

"I went to the first emergency room, the closest emergency room, and they told me that they don't do rape kits," Griffin said, "and turned me away."

In an almost matter-of-fact manner, she talks about the trauma of being raped four years ago. But Griffin says the assault on her body was nearly eclipsed by the indignities the system put her through. She managed to get a rape kit done at Harborview Medical Center.

But even then, she said, police would not investigate.

"So I emailed everyone I could," she said. "Lawmakers, city council members, federal and state and advocated for House Bill 1068 that created the sexual assault forensic examination task force and mandated that all rape kits are tested moving forward."

Now the feds have approved a grant pushed by Sen. Patty Murray to help process the estimated 10,000 rape kits that have been languishing in police evidence rooms across the state. The feds are ponying up $3,000,000; the state another $1,500,000 -- bringing to $4,500,000 the amount of money set aside to reduce the years-long rape kit backlog.

After the federal grant was announced, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said the important work is beginning to get the rape kits tested.

"And look, each one of those, that's telling a story," he said. "And those needed to be tested and help bring people to justice for what they did."
"The scars last a lifetime," said state Rep. Tina Orwall.

Orwall has made getting the rape kits tested a mission. She says once the testing gets underway, survivors will be able to track their kits’ progress on line.

"It's so important," Orwall said. "We obviously want every survivor to be able to have their voice heard and to seek justice. But we want our communities to be safe."

And these rape kits almost certainly hold the key to helping provide that.

"So we really need a system to be able to track where these perpetrators are and connect these case," she said.

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It is what Leah Griffin wants, too.

"It wasn't until Patty Murray took me to D.C., to go to the state of the union address that I realized that my story is no longer one of victimization; that I am an activist and warrior more than I'm a victim."

Griffin says much more money is needed to get justice for survivors. Even when the rape kits are processed, local police departments will need millions more to properly investigate the cases.

Griffin plans to continue to make the case for that when the state legislature is back in session in Olympia.