5 years ago, Idaho officials vowed to test all backlogged rape kits. They just finished.
Nicole Blanchard, Idaho Statesman
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(Idaho Statesman) — Idaho State Police has tested the final backlogged rape kit identified in a 2016 audit that found more than 1,100 kits untested, the agency announced Wednesday.
Rape kits contain DNA evidence gathered from medical examinations of sexual assault survivors. They can include samples taken from the individual’s body, clothing or other items. In a news release, ISP said results from the kits have been submitted to the National DNA Index System, also known as CODIS, to determine if they match existing DNA in the system.
“I think it sends a really powerful message to people who are harmed this way that, ‘Hey we are going to take these seriously, and it matters. It matters a ton.'”
Matthew Gamette, laboratory system director for ISP’s forensic services, said in the news release that this milestone puts Idaho ahead of many other states where extensive rape kit backlogs still exist.
“This is a major step in building trust among sexual assault survivors, for assisting law enforcement, and providing critical information to policymakers,” Gamette said.
The agency said the tested kits could “identify suspects or exonerate those wrongfully accused.” The Idaho Statesman has reached out to Idaho State Police to ask if the backlogged kits have led to the arrest or exoneration of any individuals.
State Sen. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, who sponsored the 2016 law that required timely testing, told the Idaho Statesman on Wednesday that the ISP lab has been relentless in its pursuit to give survivors justice.
“I think it sends a really powerful message to people who are harmed this way that, ‘Hey we are going to take these seriously, and it matters. It matters a ton,’” Wintrow said. “I’m very relieved.”
According to End the Backlog, a nonprofit that works to fund rape kit backlog testing and change state laws, several other states have also worked through their backlogs. Those states include Idaho’s neighbors Oregon, Nevada and Utah.
Gamette said in addition to testing, Idaho has also created a sexual assault kit tracking system that allows victims to see where their kit is in the testing process. All of the kits processed thus far were tested in ISP’s labs or in an FBI lab.
A 2020 year-end report showed it took an average of 178 days for the state lab to process a kit. ISP officials said Wednesday that they hope to use grant funding to work toward a goal of processing all DNA evidence within 30 days.
Wintrow on Wednesday said she hopes the state will continue to invest in its employees to maintain proper staffing at the ISP forensic lab and ensure testing of rape kits doesn’t fall behind again. All state agencies are behind on competitive salaries, Wintrow said.
“If we value public safety and we value people who’ve been victimized, then we need to staff and resource those kinds of systems appropriately so we don’t have a backlog,” Wintrow said. “We as a state … have been remiss in investing in state employees, our most valuable resource that provides the services that we all need and want. And now we’re in a pickle.”