A federal audit released Thursday morning finds that many hospitals are unprepared to collect evidence from rape victims -- posing a serious challenge for victims and prosecutors who hope to use DNA and other evidence collected from so-called rape kits to find and prosecute rapists.
A forensic examination of a rape victim can take four hours or longer and should be conducted by a specially trained nurse, referred to as a sexual assault forensic examiner.
But the Government Accountability Office found that only a fraction of hospitals have these specialists on staff -- findings similar to those found by the KING 5 Investigators last year in reports about Washington hospitals.
The GAO audit was undertaken at the request of several U.S. senators, including Washington's Patty Murray (D).
Murray and Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) are asking the Departments of Justice and Health and Human Services to act, writing that they have "...deep concern that many hospitals and states are failing to provide survivors with support and services."
Murray told KING 5, "Right now what we are asking are for federal guidelines to go to our medical faclities to make sure that they have trained personnel, the proper tools and procedures in place, so when someone shows up at their door and is the victim of sexual assault, there is someone there ready to help them."
Murray says she also wants the Justice Department to ensure that evidence is being collected, preserved and protected to aid in the prosecution of rapists.
This year in Washington, the legislature passed a law establishing a tracking system for rape kits. Lawmakers were prompted to act after KING 5 reported that rape kits were sitting untested in police evidence rooms across the state. A survey by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs estimates the number at about 6,000. Seattle alone has nearly 1,300 dating back to 2004.
House Bill 2530, which was signed by Gov. Jay Inslee on April 1, makes Washington the only state in the country to set up a rape kit tracking system to hold law enforcement accountable and to keep victims informed.
The new laws also give the Washington State Patrol Crime Lab $2.5 million to test some 1,500 old rape kits, which is about a quarter of the statewide backlog.
Follow Linda Byron on Twitter: @LByronK5.
(© 2017 KING)