SPRINGFIELD, Mo. — Thousands of rape kits in Missouri have not been submitted for DNA testing, according to a statewide audit released Thursday by Attorney General Josh Hawley’s Office.
DNA results from a rape kit help identify the perpetrator and provide evidence in court. But if they go untested, victims have no justice and the perpetrator remains free.
The AGO received responses from law enforcement agencies, crime labs and health care providers across Missouri. According to the report, there are 4,889 untested rape kits in Missouri.
“It’s kinds of unsettling,” said Brandi Bartel, the executive director at The Victim Center in Springfield.
3,701 are in the possession of law enforcement and 1,188 with healthcare providers.
Healthcare providers vary in the amount of time they hold rape kits until a victim decides to press charges.
Some keep them indefinitely, including CoxHealth in Springfield. Some for 6 months or less, which is the case at Mercy where they’re store for 120 days. And others keep the kits for a fixed time of a year or longer.
The AGO says if state crime labs were to test the untested kits, it could take more than five years and could interfere with new cases.
The report lists some of the reasons these haven’t been tested. For example, the suspect was identified without the DNA testing; police determined there was no apparent crime committed; or the victims didn’t proceed with cooperation, which accounts for 49 percent of the untested kits.
“Perhaps because participating was just too painful and hard, and it took too long,” Bartel said. “They pull back. They want to just relocate, to forget about it, go into hiding or pretend like it didn’t happen.”
In 2017, 869 rape kits were tested in Missouri, according to the report.
Crime labs report it takes about three to four months to get results. But after that, there’s the criminal justice process. Bartel says victims already make the hard decision of reporting the assault and going through an invasive, personal exam that could take hours, and a slow criminal process can be intimidating.
“Often times re-victimizes them,” she said.
She says it’s clear more resources are needed to collect and process evidence and to support law enforcement and prosecutors, but that victims coming forward is still the most important part of the process.
“It gives them empowerment, the opportunity to participate and to take some control back in their life,” Bartel said. “Be able to bring justice and take somebody who deserves consequences to be held accountable.”
The AGO says to help fix this issue, it has applied for a federal grant of nearly $1.5 million to hire private labs to test these kits while state labs focus on new cases. The grant would also help create a state-wide rape kit tracking system.
Springfield Police said it’s working with the AGO on the grant request. And the department is also working with the FBI and has recently sent them 30 sexual assault kits.
You can see the full report here.