Panel to begin case-by-case review of untested kits; report recommends tracking system, standardized policies, procedures and training
DES MOINES – More than 4,200 untested sexual assault evidence kits are stored in police departments and sheriff’s offices across Iowa, according to a yearlong survey of city and county law enforcement agencies conducted by the Attorney General’s Crime Victim Assistance Division.
The audit, called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), is the result of legislation passed in 2016 requiring the survey and a report, submitted Tuesday, to the legislature. The report includes the survey results from 387 law enforcement agencies, steps to address the backlog, and a plan to develop recommendations for the future.
“Our law enforcement partners across the state are working with us to help us get a handle on this issue, with a goal of bringing offenders to justice while supporting and empowering Iowa’s sexual assault survivors,” Attorney General Tom Miller said.
The statewide initiative, funded by a $3-million federal grant through the U.S. Department of Justice, is part of a nationwide effort to address a backlog of untested kits.
Iowa law requires law enforcement agencies to retain sexual assault kits for ten years for adult victims, and ten years following a minor victim’s 18th birthday.
Iowa law also has a separate statute of limitations for old rape cases. That three-year time frame begins to run if, through the development of a DNA profile, investigators discover the identity of a previously unknown perpetrator.
Key Survey Results
A multi-disciplinary team, comprised of law enforcement, prosecutors, crime victim advocates, and public health professionals, developed a survey to determine the scope of untested sexual assault kits and reasons behind it. Some key results of the survey:
- There are 4,265 untested sexual assault kits in Iowa.
- 168 of 387, or 43%, of Iowa’s law enforcement agencies are storing untested kits.
- Nine police departments, generally serving the most populated cities, account for 63% of the untested kits.
- No Iowa hospitals report storing untested kits.
- The top reasons departments did not submit kits for testing: The victim did not wish to file charges (19%); law enforcement doubted the truthfulness of the accusation (15%); or the victim did not cooperate (12%).
- 502 kits are being stored in cases where the statute of limitations expired prior to January 1, 2016.
- Several agencies indicated they had destroyed kits due to a misunderstanding of the legal requirements for kit retention.
Team to Decide Testing Case-by-Case
The multi-disciplinary team will evaluate the circumstances of each untested kit to determine which kits will get tested. As testing the backlog would overwhelm the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation’s (DCI’s) Criminalistics Laboratory’s ongoing workload, and as a condition of the federal grant, the team will seek DNA testing through outside laboratories. A DCI lab administrator will decide which DNA results to add to the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) database. If a DNA profile results in a CODIS match, the match will be referred to the appropriate law enforcement agency.
Victim Role in Testing
The team will also decide how to notify, engage and support sexual assault victims whose untested kits may be candidates for testing. The team will consider a victim’s wishes regarding testing, in addition to the victim’s safety and well-being. Victims who seek a status update on the testing of their sexual assault kit may contact the law enforcement agency that submitted the kit, a local victim services advocate, or the Crime Victim Assistance Division at 515-281-5044.
Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is pursuing the establishment of a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system which, when implemented, will track the status of all sexual assault kits collected at a medical facility, stored by law enforcement, or sent to laboratories for analysis.
Improve and Standardize Protocols
Lastly, the initiative seeks to improve and standardize protocols associated with testing and victim support, statewide training, and a review of statutes regarding sexual assault kit testing.
“We’re working collaboratively on a plan to improve and standardize sexual assault evidence kit procedures to help ensure we don’t see a backlog like this again,” Miller said.
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Inventory report, including a complete listing of unsubmitted test kits by department and the reasons, is available here.