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Missouri Begins Testing Backlog Of More Than 7,000 Rape Kits

Missouri is beginning to test the backlog of more than 7,000 untested rape kits from all across the state.
Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio
Missouri is beginning to test the backlog of more than 7,000 untested rape kits from all across the state.

Roughly 100 of Missouri’s 7,019 untested rape kits have been sent out of state to a private forensic lab for testing.

The state completed a full inventory of those untested kits last fall. Attorney General Eric Schmitt’s office is now moving forward with testing the kits to help prosecute rape cases and provide justice for victims. 

This is part of a $2.8 million grant former Attorney General Josh Hawley’s office received from the federal Bureau of Justice Assistance. Schmitt said there's enough money to test roughly 1,250 of the kits, but more will be sought to clear the entire backlog. 

“Not all of these kits and the DNA that comes back will lead, necessarily, to prosecutions,” Schmitt said Tuesday. “Some will, and we’ll move as expeditiously as we can where there is a case to be made with the local prosecutor.” 

Since some of these kits have sat on evidence shelves in police departments and hospitals across the state for decades, some are outside the statute of limitations. Schmitt’s office still plans to test them. 

“We’re starting probably the most recent first, and working the other way,” he said. “But we’re going to let the evidence lead us where the evidence leads us. For example, if we have a number of matches that might guide which kits are tested after that, but ultimately at the end of the day we want to get all the kits tested.” 

The first group of kits sent for testing are from the Springfield area. However, Schmitt said most of the untested kits that will be sent out for testing are from the St. Louis and Kansas City metro areas. 

It takes roughly 90 days to test a rape kit, and Schmitt’s office estimates it will take around six months to work through the 1,250 kits that can be funded now. If any result in a DNA hit, prosecutors will begin to build a case. 

“When we get results back, we will then work with local prosecutors to move forward with prosecution,” Schmitt said. 

This initiative also includes the creation of an online tracking system for rape kits. This would allow survivors, law enforcement officials and health professionals to keep track of where the kit is, in an effort to minimize the risk of any future backlog.

State Sen. Andrew Koenig, R-Manchester, is sponsoring legislation that would modify the mandatory tracking system to reflect recommendations from the attorney general’s office. 

According to the bill summary, it will allow victims to track their kit and “obtain reports, and receive updates on the status and location of their kits through a secure web-based or similar system.” They could be notified by mail, text, phone or email. 

The measure would also require the state to maintain a central, temperature-controlled location where untested kits will be safely stored for 30 years. 

“For far too long, women and other Missourians that have been sexually assaulted have been treated as second-class citizens when it comes to processing their evidence,” said Koenig at a public hearing for the measure on Monday.Follow Jaclyn on Twitter: @DriscollNPR

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Copyright 2020 St. Louis Public Radio

Jaclyn Driscoll is the Jefferson City statehouse reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. She joined the politics team in 2019 after spending two years at the Springfield, Illinois NPR affiliate. Jaclyn covered a variety of issues at the statehouse for all of Illinois' public radio stations, but focused primarily on public health and agriculture related policy. Before joining public radio, Jaclyn reported for a couple television stations in Illinois and Iowa as a general assignment reporter.