- Associated Press - Friday, September 11, 2020

TAYLORSVILLE, Utah (AP) - Officials in Utah announced that the state has eliminated its sexual assault kit backlog five years after reporting more than 2,000 were untested.

“The whole entire nation ought to be paying attention to what’s happening right here in Utah today,” Republican state Rep. Eric Hutchings said, “because this is a big deal.”

Forensic nurse Julie Valentine joined state leaders Thursday outside the Utah crime lab in Taylorsville to make the announcement, The Salt Lake Tribune reported.

Valentine cautioned that residents should not consider it the end of the backlog but instead the “beginning of our continued pursuit for justice and eradicating sexual violence.”

More than 11,000 rape kits statewide have been tested since 2015, according to data from the crime lab. It has led to 5,025 forensic DNA profiles being entered into a national database and about 2,000 suspects being identified.

Utah Department of Public Safety Commissioner Jess Anderson said the turnaround time for testing sexual assault kits is now 90 days. Previously, kits could sit for years.

Republican House Speaker Brad Wilson said legislators recently allotted $1.6 million to help the lab further reduce its testing turnaround time and contribute to new technology to solve cold cases.

“This is a human rights issue that we had to take care of, and we had to bring a voice to survivors of sexual assault,” Democratic state Rep. Angela Romero said. She sponsored a law passed in 2017 requiring that all kits be tested in Utah.

The bill mandated that law enforcement agencies submit kits to the crime lab within 30 days after collection, and it funded trauma-sensitivity training for police officers. It also set up a tracking system that victims can access to see the status of their kit.

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