Utah eliminates backlog of thousands of untested rape kits

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20170209 This Feb. 8, 2017, photo, Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah State Capitol, in Salt Lake City. Utah crime lab officials are feeling optimistic as they work to speed up the time it takes to process sexual assault evidence kits, after lawmakers approved a measure last month that sends more than $1 million to go toward this effort. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer) Rick Bowmer Associated Press A FEB. 8, 2017, PHOTO

Utah State Crime Lab Director Jay Henry holds a sexual assault evidence collection kit following a committee meeting at the Utah Capitol, in Salt Lake City in 2017. Utah has worked its way through a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault kits, state leaders and public safety officials announced Thursday. | Rick Bowmer, Associated Press

Milestone follows 2017 state law requiring testing

SALT LAKE CITY — Utah has worked its way through a backlog of more than 3,000 sexual assault kits, becoming the eighth state in the nation to do so, state leaders and public safety officials announced Thursday.

The milestone comes three years after Utah lawmakers mandated testing of the kits used to collect DNA and other physical evidence from victims of sexual crimes.

The Utah push to test rape kits, including those from decades ago, began in 2015. Since then, 11,193 kits have been analyzed, 5,025 new DNA profiles have been uploaded into a national DNA database and 1,979 suspects have been identified, said Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson.

Utah Rep. Angela Romero, sponsor of the 2017 Utah law, called the “a victory for survivors of sexual assault.” The Salt Lake Democrat said the initiative is helping to capture serial offenders by maintaining their DNA profiles in a database that returns “hits” when new evidence matches earlier samples.

“This isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue,” Romero said. “This is a human rights issue that we had to take care of, and we had to bring a voice to survivors of sexual assault.”

Turnaround time for the kits is now under 90 days, and Anderson said he hopes to shrink the timeframe to 30 days. Previously, some survivors of sexual assault waited years.

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Prosecutors throughout Utah have charged at least 33 suspects across the state as investigators have worked their way through the backlog, said Steve O’Camb, a state sexual assault kit investigator. Eighteen await trials put on hold by the pandemic, and a handful of others are under review for potential criminal charges.

A man who broke into a Utah woman’s apartment and raped her in 2008 was first to be found guilty by a jury as a result of the initiative. He was held to account more than a decade later and sentenced to at least five years and up to life in prison.

Utah’s handling of the evidence came under fire in 2014 when a statewide survey revealed a backlog of more than 2,600 sexual assault kits. The number later grew to about 3,300 as the crime lab received more kits from police agencies than it had originally anticipated.

A separate 2016 study from Brigham Young University revealed that one-third of sexual assault evidence collected from 2010 to 2013 had been processed by the end of 2015. It also found that Utah police departments took roughly 60% longer to send the kits in for testing compared to other parts of the country.

The state initiative has also …read more

Source:: Deseret News – Utah News

      

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