An audit ordered by the legislature last year has revealed 4,265 untested sexual assault evidence kits are stored in police departments and sheriff’s offices across Iowa.
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller says the yearlong survey involved 387 law enforcement agencies and found 168 had at least some untested rape kits.
“In the nine largest jurisdictions, 63 percent of those kits are in place. It doesn’t surprise us that the large law enforcement units deal with these issues much more than elsewhere,” Miller said.
The initiative in Iowa is part of a nationwide effort to address a backlog of untested kits. The survey shows the rape kits in Iowa remain untested and in storage for a variety of reasons.
“The most common of which is that the victims do not wish to file charges. Lack of cooperation from the victim is another strong indication that the victim does not want to file charges,” Miller said. “But, as part of the protocol, we really have to develop what really is ‘lack of cooperation,’ so that isn’t misunderstood.” The effort to document all of the untested kits in Iowa is funded by a $3 million U.S. Department of Justice grant.
“We’ve asked for another $1 million from the federal government to develop a tracking system on an ongoing basis…so this situation that’s occurred doesn’t occur again,” Miller said. Kerri True-Funk, with the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, will be helping notify victims about the status of their kits and cases.
“A lot of these kits have been sitting untested with victims believing that their kits have been sent to the lab,” True-Funk said. “So, this process is going to look very different for some victims than for others because they may been their evidence has been tested or their case has been closed and they don’t understand where their evidence is sitting right now.”
The Iowa Attorney General’s office report, called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, includes plans to address the backlog with “outside” laboratories that can help the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation with the DNA testing.