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5,000 rape kits sit untested in Missouri, audit finds

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JEFFERSON CITY • There are nearly 5,000 untested sexual assault kits in Missouri, according to a new report by Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley.

The figure, which was tallied as part of a statewide audit of rape kits, shows there is a need for additional funding to address the backlog, as well as a need to implement a more streamlined system for testing, Hawley said.

“From an individual perspective, any kit that goes untested means a survivor is denied the justice they so deserve. We must do all in our power to eliminate this problem in Missouri and work to better track evidence that will help identify perpetrators,” Hawley told reporters at a news conference Thursday.

Hawley, a Republican who is running for the U.S. Senate for the seat held by Claire McCaskill, launched an audit of the number of untested sexual assault evident kits in November following an investigation by the Columbia Missourian that found there was no clear picture on the total number of untested kits.

The newspaper reported last year that there may be a backlog of 900 kits, but Hawley’s preliminary report shows there are at least 4,889 untested kits.

In all, the attorney general’s office received information from 266 law enforcement agencies, 66 health care providers, and five crime labs.

Part of the reason for the backlog is a bottleneck between health care providers and the police, in which hospitals often don’t know which jurisdiction to send the evidence, he said.

Among other reasons cited by police are a lack of cooperation from victims and police finding a victim to be not credible.

Of the untested kits in the possession of health care providers, 679 relate to possible sexual assaults that have not been reported to police.

“We just need uniformity,” Hawley said.

“This is something we’ve needed to do for years,” said Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson.

Lichtenegger and Sen. Jeanie Riddle, R-Mokane, sponsored legislation this spring that would create an electronic tracking system for the kits. The measure would allow victims to access the system to monitor the status of their test kit.

Money to put processing on a fast-track could come from a $3 million federal grant. The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative gives states funds to inventory and test kits, and provides resources to sexual assault victims.

“From a law enforcement perspective, any rape kit that goes untested means a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting sex criminals remains unutilized — and a rapist remains on the streets,” Hawley said.

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Missouri’s backlog of nearly 5,000 untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously. Shame on law enforcement and health care authorities who have not prioritized the testing of rape kits, protected survivors or gotten offenders off the streets. Each kit means there is a woman who has not received the justice she deserves and lives in fear that her attacker is free to strike again.

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