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Sen. Riddle proposes tracking system for rape kits

Sen. Riddle proposes tracking system for rape kits

February 23rd, 2018 by Helen Wilbers in Local News
Rep. Jeanie Riddle

Rep. Jeanie Riddle

Photo by Contributed photo

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In some states, thousands of rape kits lie forgotten on shelves.

That might be the case for Missouri — or it might not. The state has no system to track the kits, which contain forensic evidence gathered during an exam following a sexual assault.

According to advocacy groups such as End the Backlog, these kits sometimes contain the DNA evidence necessary to catch and prosecute criminals but the kits must be tested to uncover that evidence.

Senate Bill 958, introduced Jan. 24 by State Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Callaway County, would require the Missouri attorney general's office to create an electronic tracking system for the kits.

"My legislation calls for the creation of a common sense, responsible tool that allows everyone involved in the sexual assault investigation real-time access to the location of the investigation kit and its contents," Riddle stated. "Individuals who commit these horrific acts should never walk free simply because someone lost the vital contents of the investigation kit."

The bill was heard Feb. 12 by the state's Civil and Criminal Jurisprudence Committee.

"I am hopeful the committee will approve my proposal, and send it the floor of the Missouri Senate for further discussion and debate," Riddle added.

There is evidence Missouri has a rape kit backlog problem, according to End the Backlog. The group cites a 2014 open records request which found Kansas City police had about 1,300 untested kits at the time.

In November, state Attorney General Josh Hawley's deputy chief of staff Loree Anne Paradise said the office was trying to determine the number of untested kits in Missouri, the Associated Press reported. She said the audit would take place early this year.

"We are not interested in assigning blame," Paradise said at the time. "Instead, we want to determine if there is a problem, how big the problem is, and establish procedures that will eliminate this problem."

If such an audit has occurred, the results have not yet been released.

Local advocates expressed approval for the bill.

"We are elated that Senator Riddle is passionately leading the charge in creating much needed change in how Missouri manages sexual assault forensic evidence," said Tyler Rieke, executive director of Fulton-based Coalition Against Rape and Domestic Violence (CARDV).

She said all states should have a tracking system in place.

"Currently, in the state of Missouri, survivors of sexual assault have no way of knowing where their sexual assault testing kit is or what its status is," Rieke said. "Giving survivors the power to track their forensic evidence is a huge step forward in survivor empowerment and support."

Aside from providing evidence in individual cases, testing rape kits can help stop serial rapists, End the Backlog claims.

A 2016 study by Case Western Reserve University sampled previously backlogged kits from Cuyahoga County, Ohio. Researchers concluded more than half of the cases were connected to serial offenders, and recommended all kits should be tested.

"This proposed tracking system will support the efforts to hold offenders accountable by tracking evidence and further assuring forensic evidence is not misplaced," Rieke said.

Learn more about the national backlog from endthebacklog.org. To read the bill's full text, visit bit.ly/2EHIX2S.

The Associated Press contributed reporting to this story.