DES MOINES, Iowa -- There are thousands of untested sexual assault kits sitting in storage at law enforcement agencies around the state. For months, officials have been surveying those agencies to find out where things stood.
With the help of a $2 million federal grant, the Attorney General’s office undertook the task of collecting the data.
About 80 percent of law enforcement agencies have reported so far, which shows that at least 3,400 untested rape kits in Iowa have not been sent to the Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab for analysis.
“We do not have the capacity at this time to analyze that additional 3,400 sexual assault kits in addition to all the other cases that we receive in the laboratory for DNA analysis,” said Paul Bush, the criminalist supervisor at the DNA unit of the Iowa DCI crime lab. “We are the ones that have designed those sexual assault kits. They are designed for the evidence that is collected in those to be able to be stored at room temperature.”
Bush says as long as the DNA evidence that's collected is stored properly, it can last decades. Law enforcement agencies are required to store the kits for 10 years.
“10 years from the point in time that that victim is an adult. So, if we had a victim who was 8 years-old, then that statute would actually be 20 years because the victim has until they’re 18 and then the clock starts ticking at the point in time that they’re an adult,” said Bush.
The kits are not automatically sent to the crime lab and there are a variety of reasons that might account for why there are at least 3,400 untested sexual assault kits in Iowa.
“Some might be that the person who’d been sexually assaulted wanted to have that done, but didn’t want to proceed with the investigation, so they may have said, ‘Don’t forward that.’ It could have been that the law enforcement agency didn’t feel like the case merited moving forward,” said Beth Barnhill, Executive Director of the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
The Attorney General’s office says it's unlikely that the state is going to be able to test all of the untested kits.
“That’s for several reasons, one of which is financial. And another reason is there very well may be no need to test some of these kits,” said Iowa Attorney General’s public information officer, Geoff Greenwood. In making decisions on a case-by-case basis, Greenwood says a top priority will be putting the victim first. “There are going to be situations where a victim is OK with us proceeding with these tests and there’s going to be a case, or two, or a few more where a victim is not OK with us running that test,” Greenwood said.
The Attorney General’s office says it hopes to have all of the data in by mid-August and then determinations will be made about which kits to test and which ones not to.
The Attorney General’s office and the crime lab are considering outsourcing the testing of the backlog kits to a private DNA lab for analysis.