The Idaho State Police have finally finished testing the last of their backlogged rape kits, which officials hail as a step towards obtaining justice for sexual assault survivors.
A 2016 audit by state prosecutors found a backlog of 1,100 untested rape kits from sexual assault victims, which prompted legislators to draft a law requiring law enforcement to process kits in a timely manner. The law ultimately cost the state around $200,000 dollars to process the kits.
Now, the final kit from that audit has been tested and cleared by the Idaho State Police forensics lab.
Results from the kits, which include DNA evidence taken from samples at a crime scene, are sent from law enforcement agencies to the National DNA Index System (CODIS) to see if there is a match with other DNA in the system. The goal is ultimately to find serial sexual offenders.
Sen. Melissa Wintrow, a sponsor of the legislation passed in 2016, said the completion of the kits was a positive result.
“It sends a really powerful message to people who are harmed this way that, ‘Hey we are going to take these seriously, and it matters. It matters a ton,’” she told the Idaho Statesman. “I’m very relieved.”
Matthew Gamette, Laboratory System director of Idaho State Police Forensic Services, said the agency is at the forefront of change in dealing with sexual assault survivors.
“This is a major step in building trust among sexual assault survivors, for assisting law enforcement, and providing critical information to policymakers,” Gamette said.
Gamette added that the completion of testing was ultimately about keeping Idaho communities safe from sexual assault crimes.
Idaho State Police Colonel Kedrick Wills talked of the multipronged effort by medical providers, scientific analysts, and law enforcement.
“Our management and scientific staff recognized the critical importance of this work and put in exceptional effort to complete this project,” he said.
Based on a 2020 report, it takes about 178 days to process a single kit. ISP officials are hoping to use grant funding to increase processing speeds of all DNA evidence within 30 days.
The nonprofit End the Backlog, which helps fund the testing, is raising greater awareness to the issue, and has prompted other states like Nevada, Oregon, Utah and Wisconsin to start testing their backlogged evidence.
“If we value public safety and we value people who’ve been victimized, then we need to staff and resource those kinds of systems appropriately so we don’t have a backlog,” Wintrow said.