POLK COUNTY – The federal government has awarded the Iowa Attorney General’s office $2 million to count how many untested rape kits are sitting in evidence rooms across the state.
Law enforcement agencies are required by law to keep rape kits, tested and untested, for ten years as part of the statute of limitations. However there is no bookkeeping or inventory process to keep track of how many there are.
“Part of the problem is that there is no statewide protocol for these test kits,” said Geoff Greenwood, a spokesperson for the Iowa Attorney General. “Law enforcement agencies may be handling these in different way,s and we’re hoping that the legislature can fix that at some point and establish a protocol.”
Greenwood added they proposed a bill to implement such a protocol last year, but it didn’t make it through legislature. They plan to try again next session.
“We don’t have a good inventory system, we don’t know the scope of it,” said Kerri True-Funk, Associate Director for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault. “If the county attorneys are investigating or no charges are pending, they’re just sitting in holding until the statue of limitations expires.”
Greenwood says they will use half of the money to begin an inventory, and the other half to send as many as the kits in for testing as possible on a case-by-case basis.
There are a number of reasons why kits go untested, according to Greenwood.
“It could be that the victim didn’t want a prosecution, it could be that law enforcement had their suspect, the suspect confessed and they didn’t need the test kit for their case,” he said.
The Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation is the only lab in the state that currently processes the kits, but could be even more backlogged with the possibility of additional kits coming in. The AG’s office plans to bring in other labs to help.
Greenwood says it could take as long as six months to get a hard number of untested kits.
“If we can get a good handle on what the situation is right now, that can give us a better idea of how to inform survivors and how to work with the criminal justice system,” True-Funk said.