- Associated Press - Monday, September 21, 2015

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) - More than 3,000 rape kits across Kentucky have never been tested, with some languishing in evidence lockers for more than 40 years because of a lack of funding and priority by law enforcement and state officials, Democratic Auditor Adam Edelen said Monday.

Rape Kits contain physical evidence from victims collected in the hours after a sexual assault. Testing the kits can identify DNA and other evidence that can help authorities identify and prosecute suspects. Yet a massive backlog of untested kits exists across the country for various reasons, with some estimates at more than 400,000 untested kits.

Kentucky is the 13th state to verify a definitive number of untested rape kits. Backlogs range from a high of 20,000 in Texas to 879 in Connecticut. Two of Kentucky’s neighbors, Ohio and Tennessee, have 10,134 and 9,062 untested kits, respectively, according to the national nonprofit organization End the Backlog.

“It would be tragic if we missed the human impact reflected in this small box,” Edelen said, holding up a sample rape kit at a news conference as he released a report with the statistics, and recommendations for improvement. “What we’ve got to make sure … is that we have a system in Kentucky that makes it easier to pursue justice for perpetrators and peace for victims.”

Kentucky has 391 law enforcement agencies. Of those, 87 reported having a total of 1,859 untested rape kits. The rest reside at the forensics laboratory run by the Kentucky State Police.

The Louisville Metro Police Department had the most untested kits, with 1,320. Of those, 923 were still in the department’s custody, some dating as far back as 1970. Edelen’s report found the department has had trouble keeping track of the kits since Jefferson County and the City of Louisville merged in 2003, but said the department is making strides to correct the problem.

The report blamed most of the backlog on the Kentucky State Police’s forensics laboratory. It took the lab an average of eight months to test one kit last year, adding the delay is more like 12 months to 14 months this year. The state police blamed the backlog on staffing issues, saying it is difficult to find lab technicians willing to work for a starting salary of $32,000 a year when the national average for similar positions is $52,000.

But Edelen criticized the state police for not making kit testing a priority, and said they have not asked the legislature for more money to address the problem or sought to increase the salaries of its workers. Still, he called the problem a “crisis of resources” and called on the state legislature to give the crime lab an extra $3 million to $5 million in next year’s budget to address the backlog, with another $2 million every year after that.

He also called on the state legislature to pass laws and for police departments to update their policies requiring strict timelines for the testing of rape kits. Several states, including California and Illinois, have passed laws requiring rape kits to be tested within a certain time frame. California’s law, which went into effect in January, requires all kits to be tested within 120 days. Illinois has a deadline of six months. San Francisco requires its rape kits to be tested within 14 days.

Michelle Kuiper was raped while a freshman at the University of Louisville in 1994. She said her attacker, Curtis Boyd, was finally caught in 2011 with the help of evidence collected from three rape kits. She said she endorsed the report’s reforms and hopes lawmakers will act on them.

“Just coming out with numbers, that does nothing but make people more scared,” she said. “You come out with reform … and you have something to present to survivors of these crimes to say, ‘We are working on this.’”

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