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Backlog of untested rape kits on track for testing under state police plan

by Bethany Moore
May 26, 2011

rape kits

Source: Attorney General's office

A sexual assault evidence collection kit used to collect DNA evidence from sexual assault victims.

Today, state police are working to make sure a problem like this doesn’t happen again and catch up forensic testing of the large backlog by 2014. In March state police outlined for state officials a detailed timeline for collecting and testing the untested kits, as required by legislation passed this past year.

But some are still skeptical.

The Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act passed last July requires that all law enforcement agencies submit sexual assault evidence within 10 days of collecting it and that all untested kits be submitted for forensic testing.

The law came after Human Rights Watch discovered the large backlog of untested kits in many police jurisdictions throughout Illinois.

So far 92 percent of police jurisdictions have complied by turning in the untested kits in their possession, said Arlene Hall, commander of the Illinois state police forensic laboratories.

“It’s truly a work in progress and we suspect it will take a couple of years to work through all the cases that are out there,” Hall said, “but that’s our ultimate goal: to get every criminal sexual assault case out there into our laboratory system and analyzed.”

Hall said reasons for the large backlog varied among jurisdictions in the state.

In some situations there weren’t enough leads or evidence, or the victim didn’t cooperate, Hall said, but despite the reasons for the backlog, she said is confident this plan will correct those mistakes and avoid others in the future.

“It’s a good plan,” said Scott Giles, deputy director for the Illinois State Police division of forensic services. “It will work out the way it is written. We are pretty confident in that.”

Although hopeful, the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault has doubts and are working to make sure the act is being followed. The group’s attorney, Lyn Schollett, said it is too soon to know if the law is being closely followed but she hopes that the kits are being handed in for forensic testing.

“I am hopeful that if the bill is implemented the way it should be,” Schollett said, “that law enforcement agencies will really consistently change their policies and not hold on to kits and hand them in.”

Officials at the Illinois Attorney General’s office, which supported the legislation, said they are pleased with the progress the state police have made so far.

“This law has overhauled the rape kits analysis process,” said Maura Possley, deputy press secretary for the attorney general’s office, “and it is a first step toward restoring the faith of victims in the justice system.”

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.

Schollett said her group was not surprised at the large backlog, but it was “enormously frustrating” to the work they do.

“That study verified what we’ve known anecdotally for a very long time,” Schollett said. “It was a frequent problem for victims to go to the hospital and go through the lengthy and fairly invasive process of an evidence collection kit and then not get any information about what happened to that evidence.”

Schollett said that it is essential that the evidence collected be tested for an investigation to happen.

“If a victim does decide to report and go through this process,” Schollett said, “we absolutely believe that evidence should be analyzed and the public expects that that evidence is analyzed.”