JEFFERSON CITY - A report on a statewide rape kit audit shows that there are at least 4,889 untested sexual assault kits in Missouri.
Attorney General Josh Hawley held a press conference announcing the number of untested kits and statewide changes that will come soon. Hawley said the audit was in response to a letter he received from a victim who had gone nearly 30 years without answers.
He said the victim "had the rape kit completed but the kit had never been tested and she says what an incredible feeling of despair and hopelessness that this caused and also deep sense of frustration from her going through this attack and yet not being able to see her perpetrator brought to justice.”
To conduct the audit, the Attorney’s General’s office gathered information from 266 law enforcement agencies, 66 separate health care providers and the states five crime labs. However, Hawley said there may be many more kits than the ones reported.
"That number may well be higher because not all of the responding agencies were able to quantify the number of sexual assault kits in their possession," Hawley said. Also, some law enforcement and health agencies did not respond to the audit.
Hawley said there was a lot of miscommunication that played a role in so many kits going untested. He said healthcare providers lack clear guidelines about how to notify or transmit these kits to law enforcement agencies. Law enforcement personnel are unsure about when to transmit these kits to crime labs. Both labs and law enforcement agencies are unaware of how long to retain the kits once tested and what precisely to do with them.
Hawley said his office has worked to come up with specific guidelines to make sure future rape kits are processed in a timely manner. “We owe it to the victims to test every kit we possibly can and to make every effort to bring attackers to justice,” he said.
Health care providers will be required to transmit rape kits to law enforcement within 14 days of their collection. Law enforcement will then need to transmit those kits to a crime lab within 14 days of receipt. Kits will be retained for 30 years or until the associated case is closed.
Keeping up with the kits has also been an issue, Hawley said his office will create a tracking system that will allow all parties to know where the kits are at all times.
Colleen Coble, the CEO of The Missouri Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence, believes these new requirements will better reflect respect for victims.
“I think this is a very important new start to more fully coordinating all of the different levels of system responses to ensure that we respectfully treat rape victims at every point of their engagement with those they’ve gone to for help," Coble said.
Coble said moving forward the best thing to do is to pay closer attention to the needs of victims.
“I think that being very much centered at all times on what the survivors of sexual assault in the state of Missouri need from us, that that is really where we go from here,” Coble said.