Review finds 90% of Missouri’s backlogged rape kits never tested
COLUMBIA, Mo. — (AP) In a story Nov. 20 about the Missouri rape kit backlog, The Associated Press reported erroneously that a review found that nearly 90% of Missouri’s rape kits had not been tested. It was nearly 90% of the state’s backlogged rape kits that had not been tested.
A corrected version of the story is below:
A sweeping review has found that close to 90% of the backlog of Missouri rape kits has never been tested.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Wednesday that only 830 of about 7,000 total kits in the backlog were previously tested.
Rape kits are DNA samplings and other evidence secured via medical procedures conducted immediately after an attack. They can be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to catch and convict rapists.
The Missouri Attorney General’s Office began to track the number of untested rape kits in 2017. The agency completed a detailed inventory of kits after receiving help from a federal grant.
The agency estimates it has enough grant money to test at least 1,250 kits. A former judge leading the effort says the office will ask for more money as needed to test every kit.
Full release from AG’s Office:
Attorney General Schmitt announced today in a press conference the results of a statewide inventory of all untested sexual assault kits as part of his SAFE Kits Initiative. As a result of the inventory, which was an exhaustive review of untested sexual assault kits stored by hospitals, law enforcement, and ancillary organizations, 6,987 sexual assault kits were found.
The report of the inventory, which can be found here: http://ago.mo.gov/docs/default-source/press-releases/2019/safe-kits-inventory-report.pdf?sfvrsn=bb6708ab_2, describes the process undertaken to complete an exhaustive, accurate review of the number of untested sexual assault kits in the state of Missouri.
Shortly after Judge M. Keithley Williams was announced as the head of the SAFE Kit Initiative, the inventory was divided into six geographic regions, with the larger, more rural regions being completed first. A $2.8 million dollar grant was provided by the Bureau of Justice Assistance. The Attorney General’s Office has received 75% of the grant, and has applied for the remaining 25% of the grant.
The inventory resulted in 6,987 sexual assault kits. 6,157 of those kits were untested. Of the untested kits, 4,438 were reported, meaning they had a police report to go along with them, and 1,719 were unreported, without an accompanying police report. Additionally, 830 of the kits discovered were previously tested. A full visualization of the data can be found here: https://ago.mo.gov/home/safe-kits/.
“Earlier this year we announced our Safe Kits initiative, a serious undertaking to clear out the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the state of Missouri. The work that Judge Williams and team have undertaken has been exhaustive, thorough and provides an accurate view of all of the untested sexual assault kits in the state of Missouri,” said Attorney General Schmitt. “It’s important to remember, these kits are not just numbers. They are not footnotes to the reporting of a crime. They represent real human beings, who have suffered, confronted their fears, reported the assault and submitted a kit. A kit that may have been put on a shelf and remained untested. Until now.”
“Thanks to the important work that our great team of analysts did, and the fantastic participation and cooperation of law enforcement and healthcare partners, we now have a clear picture of how many sexual assault kits are around the state. Now that we’ve accomplished this major part of the initiative, we can look to tracking and testing these kits,” said Judge Williams.
Analysts and Judge Williams herself traveled 17,152 miles and spent over 4,200 hours completing this inventory. Law enforcement organizations, hospitals, and other ancillary organizations submitted the number of kits they possessed, attorney general staff did routine spot checks and site visits, and once an organization’s inventory was finalized, representatives from those organizations signed certificates of accuracy and completeness.
Additionally, as part of the grant, Attorney General Schmitt and Judge Williams have hosted quarterly multi-disciplinary group meetings with a variety of different stakeholders, including law enforcement, prosecutors, healthcare officials and nurses, victim advocates, and more. These groups covered different facets of collecting the inventory and discussed how best to move forward.
The next steps, which are also covered in detail in the report, entail creating an electronic tracking system and testing kits. The grant from BJA will cover a certain portion of the testing, which will take place at a private testing lab as to not overload the state highway patrol lab.
“The Columbia Police Department has a strong commitment to the success of this important process. The exhaustive effort led by Judge Williams to review and catalog untested sexual assault kits has helped ensure accountability and transparency for the involved agencies. In a multi-disciplinary collaboration with other community stakeholders, the Columbia Police Department has continually advocated and pursued a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach in this difficult endeavor.
Victims of sexual assault often have no one to speak on their behalf. Survivors of these heinous offenses deserve our very best effort to bring these offenders to justice,” said Sergeant Andy Muscato, detective supervisor of the Columbia Police Department’s Special Victims Unit.
“Completing the inventory of Missouri’s untested sexual assault kits is an important first step in ensuring that all survivors have access to justice. We look forward to continuing our work with the Attorney General’s Office and our partners on the SAKI Working Group as we proceed with our next steps in this process.” Julie Donelon, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault.
“The release of the inventory results reinforces what we knew to be true—our state let down survivors of sexual violence. But moving forward, what we also know to be true is that collaboration is key. The recommendations from the Attorney General’s report provide necessary next steps for ensuring survivors have options for accessing justice, and that our state has policies and procedures in place for a comprehensive, consistent response to sexual violence. Our continued collaboration with the Attorney General’s Office can help make these recommendations a reality,” said Jennifer Carter-Dochler, Public Policy Director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Assault.
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