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Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force Subcommittee Recommends Standardized Rape Kit

24-Nov-2018

Several years ago, news broke that more than 17,000 rape kits sat untested in New York City alone. Detroit, Los Angeles, and Memphis had over 11,000 each. This news understandably prompted an outcry, and states across the nation began looking at their own rape kit backlogs, and searching for ways to address the issue.

Oklahoma is among those states. At the end of July, Oklahoma still had more than 7,000 untested rape kits, and 60 agencies still had not reported their testing data. A key reason, as always seems to be the case in Oklahoma, is a lack of funding.

Still, some progress has been made. Last year, Gov. Mary Fallin created the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force to determine the number of untested rape kits in the state and to make recommendations for clearing the backlog. At that time, 120 agencies had not reported testing data, and now, the number of unreporting agencies has been halved.

Determining the number of untested kits is not sufficient without recommendations for clearing the backlog and ensuring that current and future rape kits are tested in a timely manner.

A subcommittee of the task force recently announced one recommendation--standardized rape kits. Currently, agencies across the state use three different rape kits: Oklahoma City has its own, Tulsa has its own, and the remaining agencies use a rape kit issued by the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation.

Although these rape kits, used to gather forensic evidence following a sexual assault, are similar, they are not identical. For example, the Oklahoma City rape kit uses a wash, saying it is useful in collecting evidence. Tulsa and the OSBI, however, have ceased using the wash after determining that they didn't get any different results from using the aspirate than they did from a swab alone.

The subcommittee is now recommending that all kits used statewide be the same;  however, they will allow Oklahoma City the option to keep using the wash as part of the kit.

While the kits are similar to each other, and a new kit being developed will be similar to existing kits, the subcommittee says that there will be numerous benefits to having one standardized kit used throughout the state:

  • statewide training protocols for sexual assault nurse examiners 
  • statewide training protocols for the processing of sexual assault kits
  • reduced costs for forensic labs by combining separate kit purchases into one
  • implementation an electronic tracking system for rape kits collected in Oklahoma for transparency and accountability

According to Andrea Fielding, division director of criminalistics for the OSBI, the OSBI hopes to send out a bid packet and specs to vendors within the next month. The agency has also shifted money internally to create a new position: sexual assault tracking system director. The agency has begun interviewing for the position, which is created based on a program developed for use in Idaho.



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