The KING 5 Investigators first revealed the problem of thousands of untested rape kits statewide, years ago. It turns out the backlog is even larger than originally thought, and a group of bipartisan lawmakers is currently fighting for funding in this year’s supplemental budget.
“It’s a very real problem, and I believe Washington state is trying so hard to get ahead of this,” said Captain Monica Alexander of Washington State Patrol. The agency’s state crime lab is currently working to reduce the backlog of sexual assault kits.
Law enforcement initially estimated the number of untested kits at around 6,000, but it’s now believed that number could be closer to 10,000.
“When you have a backlog of this many kits, it's going to take us awhile to dig us out of it,” said Alexander who works with the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Task Force, known as SAFE, to examine solutions for what many victims deem a broken system.
The group is made of lawmakers, law enforcement, lab professionals, and survivors of sexual assault, who know first-hand the pain of waiting.
“What I’ve learned is how these survivors have to endure this for years and years and years. The fear they live in,” said Alexander who attends SAFE Task Force meetings and conferences. “I've talked to women who have waited 14 years and 15 years and 20 years,” she continued.
Of the original rape kit backlog, WSP says 928 kits have been completely tested. Nearly 2,000 more kits are pending testing; more than 2,900 have been sent out to Sorenson lab hired to help the state. However, that’s still a fraction of the grand total of kits.
“We don't have the lab staff on board to test enough kits every month,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines.
Representatives Orwall and Gina McCabe, R-Goldendale, are the bi-partisan duo leading the effort to fight for additional resources.
However, their bill that would both preserve the SAFE Task Force, create a “survivor bill of rights,” and renew the commitment for rape kit testing stalled in the House Appropriations Committee this month.
Orwall and McCabe are now doing what they can to make sure some amount of funding is of the supplemental budget.
“I think even getting $250,000 or more allows us to keep moving forward and testing and come back in long session to get the remaining $2.5 million dollars,” said Orwall.
“Now that people are realizing the tests are being tested, the backlog is being moved, we're seeing an increase in reporting,” said McCabe. “At the same time we're trying to keep up, we're getting new tests in, more than ever.”
The representatives hope to learn in coming days whether their request makes the state budget.
“If we need to, we’ll probably go to Congress. This is too important an issue to just let set aside,” said McCabe.
Ultimately, for the victims still seeking justice.
“We have to do better by the survivors of this crime by holding people accountable and letting them know the person who hurt you is locked up, but we can't do it without evidence,” said Captain Alexander.
House Appropriations Chair Timm Ormsby declined to interview with KING 5 but called reducing the backlog a “top priority” and said he’s working with Rep. Orwall before finalizing the supplemental operating budget.
“We need to ensure that there are funds to make progress on the current backlog of evidence kits and to avoid future delays, and that’s our focus as we craft a bipartisan, bicameral budget over the coming days,” Ormsby continued in a statement.