Rape victims deserve to know their cases are being vigorously pursued and that justice is a priority for the state. Yet more than 6,000 rape evidence kits in Washington remain untested, some of them having languished for years on police evidence shelves.
Believe it or not, that represents progress for the state, which three years ago had about 10,000 untested kits — but more needs to be done. Fully addressing the issue will require diligence from state leaders and funding from the Legislature. In addition to possibly providing closure for victims, reducing the backlog of evidence can help prevent future crimes by identifying perpetrators who might still be out there.
Washington is not alone in its need to address a backlog of rape kits. According to End the Backlog, a national advocacy group that has been effective in drawing attention to the issue, California has more than 13,000 untested rape kits. Just last week, Oregon announced that it had finished testing old kits, clearing an inventory that was about 5,500 three years ago.
Washington is making progress, in part thanks to a national grant, but the inevitable addition of new kits from recent crimes leaves lab technicians fighting an uphill battle. Current evidence takes between eight months and 12 months to process, while national best practices call for a maximum of a two-month wait.
That kind of delay is unconscionable. Imagine being a victim — or knowing a victim — who is waiting up to a year just for DNA evidence to be processed before an in-depth investigation can begin. The benefit of having such evidence available was highlighted last week in Portland with a conviction for a crime from 1996. The evidence kit from that case languished for more than two decades; once it was tested, identification and prosecution was relatively quick.