JEFFERSON CITY – There are close to 4,900 untested rape kits in Missouri, and that number likely is low because some agencies couldn't say exactly how many kits they have, according to a review by the state attorney general's office.
Attorney General Josh Hawley, who launched an audit of the state's rape kit backlog in November 2017, announced the findings Thursday in what he said was the first such review.
Rape kits contain DNA samples and other evidence secured during medical procedures conducted immediately after an attack. They can be used by law enforcement and prosecutors to catch and convict rapists, and Hawley said the kits "represent a chance to put criminals behind bars."
The review found log jams at health care centers, which have 1,188 untested kits, and law enforcement agencies, which have 3,701. The attorney general attributed that to a lack of resources to test the kits and no uniform protocol outlining what to do with the sexual assault kits once they're submitted.
According to a report by Hawley's office, about half of law enforcement agencies cited "victim non-cooperation" as a reason for not sending kits for testing, and 46 percent cited that the victim was not credible or that no apparent crime was committed.
But Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence CEO Colleen Coble the issue is that victims are not treated well after they agree to exams that she described as difficult and invasive. She said work to address the backlog is an important step forward.
"If we do not honor their efforts, we have fallen short as a community in every level in our state," she said.
At least 23 other states have laws requiring audits of untested rape kits, according to 2017 data compiled by the national sexual and domestic violence advocacy organization Joyful Heart Foundation. At least 10 others, including Missouri, have conducted or announced reviews by other means.
The attorney general's report says at the current pace, it could take more than five years to work through Missouri's current backlog, not factoring in any new kits submitted for testing.
Hawley said his office is waiting to hear whether it will receive a requested $3 million federal grant aimed at chipping away at untested kits, more accurately identifying how many untested kits there are, and training law enforcement, prosecutors and health care providers.
Hawley also touted new legislation passed this year that would enact time limits for how long police and health care agencies have to turn over kits for testing.
Under the bill, hospitals and other medical centers would be required to notify law enforcement of either reported rape kits or anonymous ones, depending on what the victim chooses. Police would have 14 days to take the kits, and then another 14 days to submit them to labs for testing.
Rape kits would be required to be kept for 30 years or until the case has been ruled on in court.
The bill hasn't yet been formally sent to the governor for consideration.