NEWS-SENTINEL EDITORIAL: Over half of rape kits in Indiana were not submitted

Every minute and a half, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. A victim may undergo a forensic examination soon after the assault to collect evidence in what is commonly known as a rape kit, which can be used to bring the perpetrator to justice.

Putting together a rape kit is a several-hour process through which sexual assault evidence is collected. It involves a full body scan of the victim and swabbing for forensic evidence.

Hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits are sitting in law enforcement facilities across the country. If a victim decides to report a sexual assault and go through the legal process, the evidence needs to be analyzed before it can be used as a tool for possible prosecution.

The Indiana Senate passed a resolution in April, introduced by Republican Sens. Michael Crider and Eric Houchin, urging the state police to conduct an audit of untested sexual assault kits that may have lingered in evidence collection rooms across the state for years.

The survey of Indiana law enforcement agencies and health care providers has found that of 5,396 completed kits statewide, 2,560 have never been submitted for lab testing. Of those, 478 were in St. Joseph County, 256 in Marion County and 238 in Lake County. Allen County has only 15 and DeKalb County 23. (Detroit, in comparison, reported possessing 11,000 untested kits that were discovered in a storage facility in 2009).

State law does not require law enforcement agencies to count, track or test rape kits.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national nonprofit, launched its End the Backlog campaign in 2010 to improve sexual violence response by ending the backlog of these untested kits. It has worked with Crider to uncover rape kit backlogs and implement reform in Indiana.

The group’s website says “the backlog of untested rape kits represents the failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously, prioritize the testing of rape kits, protect survivors and hold offenders accountable.”

The foundation website says, “When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, link crimes together and identify serial offenders. It can also confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, discredit the suspect and exonerate the innocent.”

Crider said he plans to file legislation in January to encourage local police agencies to submit their untested kits for examination as soon as possible and expects his colleagues in the Republican-controlled General Assembly will support the effort.

There may be legitimate reasons many of the kits have remained untested. But each rape kit represents one woman’s ordeal, and if they can be tested we believe they should not be left forgotten on some shelf.