Backlog on rape test kits fails sex assault victims



Police and prosecutors must move quickly to correct a problem in tracking sexual assault kits that, in some cases, have remained untested for decades.

The longer the issue remains unresolved, the more likely it is that people will feel victimized again by a criminal justice system that’s failed them.

A recent audit has shown the issue to be a concern among counties statewide. Nowhere is that more apparent than in St. Joseph County, where that audit found 478 kits — the most of any county in the state — that have not been tested at state police labs.

And it’s not just St. Joseph County. Elkhart County has 79 untested kits, while LaPorte County has 20 and Marshall County has 10.

Statewide, 5,396 sexual assault kits have gone untested in Indiana. For a significant portion of those — 2,836 — there are explanations for why the kits haven’t been tested. Some were identified as false reports while others did not report the crime to law enforcement. Still others have gone through the court system but are being held to allow for appeals or until the statute of limitations expires on related crimes a suspect hasn’t been charged with.

But what about the kits that don’t fall into one of those categories. Why weren’t they tested? Some of St. Joseph County’s sex assault kits and their related cases date back to the 1990s. How can so many cases go untested for decades without the issue being discovered sooner?

St. Joseph County Prosecutor Ken Cotter is unwilling to assign blame yet. He said he won’t know exactly how the errors occurred until an investigation is completed. Right now his office is investigating assault cases associated with kits to determine why they weren’t sent to a state police lab for testing.

Linda Baechle, president and CEO of the YWCA of North Central Indiana, said she was disturbed by the audit’s results, but encouraged that state and local officials were determined to find the cause of the backlog and correct it. “For the sake of the victims, we need to get to the bottom of it and right the ship,” Baechle said.

What’s even more disturbing is that no one at a state or local level is saying how or why this occurred, and how it could have gone unnoticed for so long. This involves multiple law enforcement agencies, including city, county and state police, and current and former county prosecutors. There has to be better communication among all agencies to ensure one uniform and consistent process is followed when it comes to testing sex assault kits.

We’re glad that Cotter is taking steps to get answers to an issue that’s lingered too long.

What is clear is that a system intended to keep track of sexual assault evidence is broken and needs to be fixed.

People who have been sexually assaulted already have been victimized. It’s important that a system intended to help bring about justice works properly so that person doesn’t end up feeling victimized again.

This was distributed by Hoosier State Press Association. Send comments to [email protected].

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