After learning a high percentage of rape kits are going untested by law enforcement throughout the state, Highlands Ranch Republican state Rep. Frank McNulty plans to introduce legislation at the start of January’s session that would require all kits to be tested.
Rape kits, which are federally mandated for use in all sexual assault investigations, contain evidence taken from alleged victims. The process, which can take hours, consists of collecting clothing fibers, hair samples, blood and bodily fluids that may help identify an assailant or provide evidence supporting prosecution during trial.
“It’s an arduous process for the victims,” McNulty said. “Talking with some of the women who have gone through this process, it’s pretty traumatic, and to not use that information to catch criminals and save other women from being future victims, that’s a real problem.”
According to a National Institute of Justice report published in 2011, 18 percent of unsolved alleged sexual assaults that occurred from 2002-2007 contained forensic evidence that remained in police custody, untested.
The report states that 44 percent of law enforcement agencies said that one of the reasons they did not send evidence to the lab for analysis was that there was no identified suspect. Fifteen percent said that they did not do so because “analysis had not been requested by a prosecutor.”
McNulty said he suspects there are circumstances under which law enforcement can make a reasonable determination that a kit doesn’t need to be tested, but when talking with folks in the law enforcement community he has asked if opportunities to arrest predators are being missed and the response has been a resounding yes.
“Now, they say the numbers are probably small, but to me we have the evidence someplace to connect the dots and put criminals behind bars,” he said. “We need to make sure we are allowing those dots to be connected. Right now they are not.”
According to Deputy Chad Teller, spokesman with the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office, the Douglas department does not have a running record of the number of untested kits. Each kit is assigned to a specific case and the department does not keep a general file on all of the kits.
A Channel 7 investigation, however, showed that in neighboring communities, 44 percent of kits have gone untested by the Denver Police Department since 2008 and 64 percent have gone untested in Jefferson County.
“To me, protecting victims from sexual assault has got to be a No. 1 priority,” McNulty said. “I understand there are many other things that we ask law enforcement to do, but when we have the evidence sitting there to put bad guys behind bars and to protect people who would otherwise be future victims, we need to be doing it.
“Victims of sex assaults shouldn’t have to push or fight to get their sex assault kit tested. We are missing opportunities to protect victims.”