Local and state governments across the U.S. have come under fire in recent years for their backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
An examination of 11,341 untested rape kits in Detroit dating back to the 1980s found DNA evidence to move forward on 1,947 cases and has garnered 127 convictions so far, according to Andrea Fielding, director of the OSBI Crime Lab in Edmond.
The analysis identified 817 serial rapists who were connected to at least two rapes, 50 of whom had committed 10-15 rapes, she said.
“That was very alarming not only to Detroit, but to a lot of the advocacy programs,” Fielding said during a media day and tour of the OSBI Forensic Science Center on July 16.
A rape occurs every 92 seconds in the U.S., and every nine minutes one of those involves a child, she said.
In 2017, then-Gov. Mary Fallin created a task force to look at how the state’s law enforcement agencies gather, analyze and store sexual assault evidence.
The task force sent a survey to the more than 400 law enforcement agencies in the state to find the number of untested sexual assault kits.
The 312 responses showed more than 7,000 untested kits, Fielding said — roughly 1,530 in the Oklahoma City Police Department, over 3,500 in Tulsa, and roughly 2,200 from all other jurisdictions, which fall to OSBI.
To begin working down the OSBI backlog, the State Legislature gave the bureau an additional $1 million to hire five new criminalists in biology and to buy equipment and supplies to test the kits.
Fielding previously said eliminating the OSBI’s backlog could take three to four years, and it’s unknown how many kits the agency can process with the $1 million grant.
The Tulsa Police Department also received a grant of about $1.5 million, which will fund outsourced testing of about 900 kits, she said.
TIMELINE SET FOR RAPE KIT TESTING
Several bills passed the Legislature based partially on the task force’s recommendations.
Senate Bill 975 requires all rape kits to be submitted for analysis within 20 days, establishes a standardized rape kit for use across the state, and requires agencies to keep kits for 50 years.
Senate Bill 971 broadened sexual assault training as part of state law enforcement training in how to take into account the psychological trauma that rape victims undergo.
“It’s different than victims of other crime, and that hasn’t been taught to law enforcement,” Fielding said. “So an officer who interviews a victim may not realize that because of the trauma that he or she has undergone, they don’t respond like you or I would respond if we were asked questions.”
TRACKING SYSTEM AIDS TRANSPARENCY
Senate Bill 967 called for a statewide tracking system overseen by the OSBI.
Many other states have implemented tracking systems, Fielding said.
“It empowers victims to track their kits through the system and to know where in the process their kit is,” she said. “They know it didn’t fall in a hole somewhere and get stuck in an evidence vault, because they can see from the time it’s picked up at the hospital that an officer has it.”
The victim can see when the kit goes to the evidence vault, when it goes to a lab, when the lab has finished analysis and when the lab issues a report. The system will also notify law enforcement agencies when the 20-day mark for submitting a kit has passed.
“There’s transparency for the whole process,” Fielding said.
The system itself comes from the state of Idaho, which received a federal grant several years ago to develop a program and now provides that system to other agencies free of charge.
The OSBI’s statewide tracking system is on track to roll out ahead of the Jan. 1, 2020, deadline imposed by statute, she said.