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Audit: Nearly 5,000 Rape Kits Untested In Missouri; Kansas City's Turnaround Longest

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Missouri has at least 4,889 untested rape kits that have yet to be submitted for DNA testing, according to a state audit. 

In 2017, crime labs around the state tested 869 rape kits, which preserve DNA evidence, the audit said. And the Kansas City Police Department had the longest turnaround among more than 250 law enforcement departments.

Attorney General Josh Hawley, who released a preliminary report Thursday, estimated it could take five years to test the backlog of old kits alone, not including any new ones. 

With the backing of the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, Hawley applied for a $3 million federal grant last month to fund private forensic labs, which would ease the burden on law enforcement labs, and to set up a statewide rape-kit tracking system.

In his report, Hawley praised victims who report their assaults and undergo evidence examinations, saying "few acts are more courageous." Hawley is a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Democrat Claire McCaskill, who is seeking re-election and has used her political office to address sexual assaults on college campuses and in the military.

The audit showed that of the 266 law enforcement agencies surveyed, the Kansas City Police Department had the longest turnaround to test kits, averaging 211 days. The KCPD could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

A little more than half of the agencies documented reasons they did not submit kits for DNA testing, with the top two being "victim non-cooperation" and "victim was found not to be credible, or no apparent crime was committed."

It's common for rape kits to go untested, and there isn't a single reason why, according to Marie Alcocer, Director of Advocacy at the Metropolitan Organization to Counter Sexual Assault. How common? About a decade ago, Detroit, Michigan, had more than 11,000 untested kits.

"Across the board I think more resources are needed to be put in place for victims of sexual violence, whether it's increased law enforcement, increased availability for advocacy services," Alcocer said.

She also believes the audit may have another implication. 

"When survivors see the news and see kits are not being tested, and perpetrators are not being held accountable, it impacts whether or not they're going to move forward and report the assault," Alcocer said.

Alcocer praised Hawley's plan to provide training to police, prosecutors and health care providers on sexual assault investigations. 

"We're hoping (Hawley's plans) will go through, and we can start working on repairing the wrong that has been done to survivors and hopefully giving them that opportunity to see their kits tested and some form of justice," Alcocer said.

Andrea Tudhope is a reporter for KCUR 89.3. Email her at andreat@kcur.org, and follow her on Twitter @_tudhope

Andrea Tudhope is an award-winning multimedia journalist based in Kansas City, Missouri. She is currently coordinating producer for America Amplified, a national public media community engagement initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. 
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
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