The number of untested rape kits with the Missouri State Highway Patrol’s crime lab has more than doubled since last August, when a new law requiring police to submit kits within 14 days took effect.
As of May 1, 403 kits sat untested, the Kansas City Star reported. There were 179 in August, according to the agency’s website, which posts monthly updates.
The figures indicate the kits are not being tested at a higher rate despite more continuing to be submitted. Advocates said increased kit testing should also be required.
“There remains quite a bit of work to do in Missouri,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for Joyful Heart, whose objective is to alter society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and support survivors.
At the highway patrol’s lab, numerous changes have been implemented to address the growing number of kits. Some lab workers are being moved within the division and a new section in the lab designed to screen kits is being established, MSHP director Brian Hoey said. Other kits will be sent to a private lab.
“It is a challenge, but we will meet the challenge,” Hoey said.
There were 4,889 untested rape kits across the state, according to a report published last year by the Missouri attorney general’s office. Five labs, 66 hospitals and 266 law enforcement departments sent responses for that survey. Other agencies didn’t, so it’s likely the figure was higher.
After the report, the attorney general’s office received a $2.8 million federal grant that is being used to compile a list of untested kits. The process should conclude in the next four months, spokesman Chris Nuelle said.
The funding will also be used to develop a forensic tracking system. Knecht said Joyful Heart backs this because it gives survivors an opportunity to check on the status of their kit, which gives them more power over the process.
“It comes back to the survivors and remembering that these boxes that we have sitting on shelves represent an individual,” Knecht said. “This represents a person’s life that was derailed by something that happened to them, something very violent and something very invasive. When we don’t do anything with this evidence, we don’t take it off the shelves and test it, we’re sending a terrible message to survivors that it doesn’t matter if you do this or not and that what happened to you doesn’t matter.”
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