- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 24, 2016

HONOLULU (AP) - Hawaii lawmakers are pushing for more details on Hawaii’s backlog of untested rape kits, which supporters say can be crucial for catching repeat offenders.

The Honolulu Police Department has about 1,500 rape kits that haven’t been tested, primarily because of limited staff and resources, spokeswoman Michelle Yu said. The kits contain specimens and DNA evidence collected from sexual assault victims to be used as evidence.

State senators in two committees advanced a bill Wednesday that would require more reporting from law enforcement departments on untested rape kits.

“In other jurisdictions where they’ve gone back and tested rape kits, they have found not only were they able to close cold cases, but they also discovered that there were a subset of perpetrators that were responsible for multiple rapes,” said Sen. Laura Thielen, who co-introduced the bill.

Nationwide, there are between 100,000 and 400,000 untested sexual assault kits, and at least 28 states have enacted laws to address the problem, according to the National Conference on State Legislatures. Michigan passed a law in 2014 setting time limits on how long a rape kit can go without testing before it’s analyzed by a crime lab.

Hawaii’s bill, SB2366, requires reporting, rather than requiring testing within a timeframe, as a first step because it took years just to get the backlog number, Sen. Will Espero said. He and other lawmakers were frustrated in a recent hearing when a police department official couldn’t tell the legislative committee the number of outstanding rape kits. Later, lawmakers were told there was a backlog of 1,500 kits, and then they were told there were 15 untested kits.

“This issue was not a priority,” Espero said. “They couldn’t give us straight basic answers.”

The laboratory at the Honolulu Police Department tests rape kits when requested by an investigator or prosecutor, Yu said. There’s a backlog of 15 rape kits where a test was requested but not yet conducted, in addition to the other 1,500 untested kits, she said.

The backlog developed because the department receives about 150 kits annually, and the lab receives requests to process about 30 of those kits each year, Yu said in an email. The remaining approximately 120 kits are stored as evidence, she said.

“Because of limited funding and understaffing, the department has had to prioritize which cases are worked on and which kits are tested,” Yu added. “We have and will continue to apply for grants and funding to assist in analyzing the untested kits.”

Rape is often difficult to prove, because “it’s a he-said, she-said situation, and it’s usually a crime with no witnesses,” said Ann Freed, co-chairwoman of the Hawaii Women’s Coalition. “If rape kits were tested, the guy would be in a database. And the next time they got DNA evidence on him, the rape victim would be more credible to a jury.”

It would cost an estimated $2.3 million to test the 1,500 kits, Wayne Kimoto, forensic laboratory director for the Honolulu Police Department, told Espero in an email.

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