PROVO, Utah (ABC4 Utah) A new study claims an overwhelming number of rape kits sit on shelves for months even years after an alleged assault. That research also shows Utah’s numbers fall well below the national average.
In studies done across the U.S. the average number of rape kits being submitted to crime labs in the first year of an investigation is 60%. In Utah, that number is just 22.8%.
“It means we have improvements to make, it means that we know the numbers which we then can measure improvements. I think throughout the state we need to look at this from every level,” said BYU nursing professor, Julie Valentine.
Valentine created the study, looking at 7 Utah counties, Box Elder, Weber, Davis, Morgan, Salt Lake, Iron and Washington. 1874 rape kits were collected from 2010 to 2013. Only 711 of those kits ever made it to the crime lab. If you break it down into individual counties, you’ll see Washington County had the most devastating numbers.
From 2010-2013, only 4.1% of sexual assault kits were sent to the lab in the first year of an investigation. In 2014 there was a push from the public to test a backlog of kits, so another 14% were submitted to the crime lab that year. Still, that meant nearly 82% of those rape kits went untested.
“As an agency we’ve seen that coming and we decided to act proactively on the front end as that funding has increased, our participation in submitting those kits has increased as well,” said Captain Mike Jiles with St. George Police.
St. George is the largest city in Washington County. Jiles said, since this study his department has taken proactive steps to get rid of their backlog and they now submit every kit.
The same goes for West Valley City. Chief Lee Russo said, “My personal opinion and my policy for my agency is that we test all of these kits. We get them into the system and we move forward. We’re here to serve our victims.”
Valentine said the more kits submitted the higher the likelihood of catching serial rapists. While Valentine appreciates these proactive departments she wants to take it a step further. She wants to see a statewide mandate where all kits are tested, no questions asked.
“I was unsure how I felt about that until I developed these findings. That would take the subjectivity out and I think we need that,” valentine said.
She added, less subjectivity and more processed kits will lead to more prosecutions.
Thanks to a federal grant, the state crime lab says it is ready for the changes. It’s getting a new facility, new technology like a kit tracking system, and more staff. In about a year, once the backlog is clear, they believe they’ll be able to process kits much faster with a goal of 60 to 30 days.
Valentine also emphasized the importance of not blaming, but believing victims. She says if victims feel supported, more will come forward and file reports, which means more predators off the streets. For more information on the Start By Believing campaign click here.