ST. LOUIS – Sexual assault victims in Missouri have waited years—even decades, for some—for justice and the state is one step closer to resolving its backlog of untested rape kits.
Attorney General Eric Schmitt said there soon could be justice for victims.
“We just want to make sure this never happens again, that we never end up with a backlog of 6,000 untested kits,” Schmitt said.
Thousands of kits have been left sitting on shelves at police departments and hospitals as early as the 1980s.
“These were all numbers, right, and you can get lost in those numbers but each one of these kits represents a human being that has the courage to come forward,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt started the SAFE Kit Initiative last March to clear out the 6,000 untested sexual assault test in the state. Since the start of 2020, Schmitt’s office has sent 1,500 kits to a private lab in Virginia to be tested.
“The first round of tests are coming back,” Schmitt said.
Earlier this week, Schmitt’s office received 51 of those kits back and 11 of them matched with a criminal already in the Combined DNA Index System.
“The highway patrol then enters it into the CODIS System, then the highway patrol is notified and here are the 11 hits and then we make referrals to local law enforcement,” Schmitt said.
The attorney general said the other 40 tests that did not cause a hit in CODIS; there’s more work to do.
“It doesn’t mean there can’t be an investigation, it doesn’t mean there won’t be more to do,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said each kit costs around $1,000 to be tested and it’s being paid for with $2.8 million federal grant.
That grant pays for the inventory of kits, an online tracking system to notify law enforcement and victims, as well as the testing phase.
“Now that we’ve started to get some of these back, we fully anticipate that there will be rolling numbers coming from the 1,500 that we sent out during 2020,” Schmitt said.
Schmitt said he hopes to hear if his office receives another federal grant within the next month to continue testing the backlog of kits.
Current sexual assault kits that come in are submitted to the highway patrol. Schmitt said he did not send the backlog of kits to the highway patrol so they wouldn’t be overloaded.
Besides waiting for test results from these kits, Schmitt is also waiting for lawmakers in Jefferson City to make a decision on concurrent jurisdiction for the St. Louis Circuit Attorney’s office.
“You’ve seen violent crime each epidemic levels in St. Louis and in the city we are almost at 200 murders and the level of violence we are seeing is unacceptable,” Schmitt said. “At the end of the day, this is about victims, this is about protecting our communities, and I think it’s all hands on deck.”
Schmitt said he hasn’t spoken to Kim Gardner lately, but asked her if she needed help when he first took office.
“We want to help with the most serious crimes in the city of St. Louis, homicides and murders, and we want to be part of the solution,” Schmitt said. “That’s what this is about. This isn’t about personalities, it’s not about politics, this is about public safety.”
The first shipment of sexual assault kits was from southwest Missouri and Schmitt said no arrests have been made yet but law enforcement is in the process of investigating.