State Auditor Tim Keller Provides Roadmap to End Our Rape Kit Backlog (One of the Nation’s Largest)
You should be angry about this: New Mexico has the highest backlog of rape kits per capita in the nation. 5440 rape kits (and counting). Oh, sorry – make that number 5,302 because the State Forensic Lab tested only 128 rape kits last year. All year.
On Tuesday, New Mexico State Auditor Tim Keller released a statewide special audit of the untested sexual assault evidence kits.
Watch the announcement, via Facebook video:
According to the press release issued by The Office of the State Auditor (OSA):
The Office of the State Auditor(OSA) conducted the special audit to determine why a backlog of 5,440 untested kits amassed in New Mexico and develop best practices to clear it and prevent it from happening again.
In New Mexico, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 20 men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime and 65% of sexual assault victims are minors. Although rape kit backlogs are unfortunately common throughout the country, New Mexico has the highest per capita backlog. New Mexico’s backlog rate per capita is almost double that of the next worst state, Michigan.
“Protecting the public is one of the most basic functions of government,” stated State Auditor Tim Keller. “The audit provides a roadmap for our state to both clear the existing backlog, and once it’s cleared, to ensure that this never happens again. It all comes down to a question of priorities. With policies to overcome troubling long-held attitudes about victims, support for service providers and adequate funding, New Mexico can help lead the way by taking a concrete stand against sexual assault.”
Last year, OSA worked with the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and law enforcement agencies to complete the first-ever statewide count of untested kits. There were 5,440 untested kits sitting on the shelves in evidence rooms and crime labs. Of those kits, 3,948 (73%) would ordinarily be tested in the City of Albuquerque’s Forensic Lab. The remaining kits from other local law enforcement agencies and the State Police would ordinarily be tested at the Department of Public Safety (DPS) Forensic Lab in Santa Fe.
The keys to preventing this problem from occurring in the future include:
- Law enforcement agencies should submit for testing every kit for which a police report is filed, as required by law.
- The State and City of Albuquerque must fund the forensic labs to meet these demands. In addition, we must fund the service providers like SANE programs and rape crisis centers.
- Training on the handling of kits, using kits in investigations, trauma-informed interview techniques and sexual assault issues for all law enforcement agencies and district attorneys.
- The backlog speaks to troubling long-held attitudes about victims. Over half of the documented reasons for not submitting a kit for testing were based on the credibility of, cooperation from or contact with the victim. This suggests a disconnect with the realities of sexual assault victims and with research indicating that sexual assault is not falsely reported more frequently than other crimes.
The full audit is available here: http://www.saonm.org/media/uploads/SAEK_Audit_12-5-16.pdf
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The rape kit, (the term used for a collection of physical evidence preserved after sexual assault) may be the only way to identify or exonerate a suspect. The National Institute of Justice (NIJ) considers a rape kit to be backlogged if it has not been tested within 30 days of being submitted to a crime lab. The number of untested rape kits in New Mexico is staggering.