A new law that establishes a tracking system for rape kits is being hailed as a victory for victims who’ve been left in the dark about the status of evidence collected in their cases.
DNA evidence collected during rape exams can be the key to identifying rapists and sending them to prison. Yet a KING 5 Investigation found rape kits sitting untested in police evidence rooms across the state. While no one knows exactly how many untested rape kits are out there, 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.
Following KING 5’s reports, the Seattle Police Department changed its policy of testing only rape kits in cases that were headed for prosecution. As of January 2015, SPD began submitting every rape kit to the lab shortly after the evidence was collected.
Pamela Crone of Legal Voice, an organization that advocates for victims of rape and domestic violence, said not testing rape kits sends a disturbing message to victims.
“No one cares, why did I go through this and why did I try and work with law enforcement and go through this process and this exam and it didn’t mean anything?” she said.
House Bill 2530, which was signed by Governor 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.
Democratic Representative Tina Orwall, (D) Des Moines, and Republican Senator Ann Rivers, (R) Clark County, co-sponsored the law, along with one last year requiring police to submit every rape kit to the crime lab for testing within 30 days of collection.
Rivers said together the two laws reverse decades of injustice for rape victims.
“In Washington state we’ll now be able to say absolutely we are going to get justice for you,” Rivers said.
“It’s critical to test every kit, and when they’ve done that in other places, like Detroit and Houston, they’ve found that 25% to 30% are serial rapists,” Orwall said.
The two women are passionate advocates uniting to fix a system that has let offenders go free and victims be forgotten.
“I think of all the survivors and the trauma they went through and this is hopefully a step that’s gonna help them heal and move on,” Orwall said.