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Rape kit backlog on the decline in Ohio

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Ohio is making strides in the fight to end its extensive backlog of untested rape kits that have existed untouched for years.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine wrote to law enforcement agencies throughout Ohio and urged them to comply with Senate Bill 316, which requires law enforcement agencies to send in rape kits for testing in a timely fashion.

The bill, signed into law by Ohio Gov. John Kasich in December 2014, was sponsored by State Sen. Capri Cafaro (D-Hubbard.) It requires law enforcement agencies to review backlogged cases of sexual assault and to send any untested rape kits to the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) or another crime laboratory for DNA analysis within one year. For newly reported sexual assault crimes, the law mandates the kit be sent for testing within 30 days.

SB 316 became effective at the end of March, and DeWine wrote his letter to law enforcement as a six-month follow-up. He encouraged the agencies to send in untested kits and reminded them that those who have not yet done so have only six months remaining before they are in violation of the law.

Six months after going into effect, the law has made a significant impact in clearing Ohio’s backlog.

“As of Sept. 1, 2015, 198 law enforcement agencies have submitted 10,764 previously untested sexual assault kits to BCI for DNA testing,” a press release from DeWine’s office said in response to the letter he sent to law enforcement. “Of those, 1,430 kits were submitted after Senate Bill 316 took effect. BCI forensic scientists have tested 8,416 of the kits submitted as part of the initiative so far, resulting in 3,121 hits in the Combined DNA Index System.”   

Cafaro said the judicial process takes time. Although information on the amount of convictions and prosecutions as a result of the legislation is unclear, she is confident that the legislation is making strides in revealing serial offenders, which is one of the reasons she sponsored the law in the first place.

“From those several thousand rape kits that have been submitted since the March enactment of the law, we are already finding that many of them are yielding cases where individuals are being found as multiple offenders,” Cafaro said. “You’re yielding evidence of serial rapists or criminals.”

Katie Hanna, executive director of Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, agrees SB 316 has made great strides in identifying these serial rapists but noted that another recently-enacted law made another needed change.

“We have cases in the state where the statute of limitations has already expired,” Hanna said. “There was another law that went into effect just in July that extended the statute of limitations for rape and sexual battery.”

That law, House Bill 6, extends the statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault from 20 years to 25 years, according to the bill. With this extension, those whose DNA is found in the rape kits being processed years after collection due to changes from SB 316 can be prosecuted.  

Although DeWine urged law enforcement officials to meet the March 2016 deadline for the bill, he expressed his satisfaction with the progress the law has already made.

“Hundreds of individuals have been indicted in connection with sexual assaults committed years ago,” DeWine said in the press release. “The victims of these assaults are finally seeing their perpetrators being brought to justice.”

Hanna agrees the changes are positive, but she said victims, especially those of cases many years old, need to be treated with care. She hopes that law enforcement will involve rape crisis advocacy groups.

“If you’re making notifications to a survivor that had a kit collected from evidence on his or her body from twenty or more years ago, that needs be dealt with in collaboration with rape crisis advocacy because that’s a lot to bring up for a survivor of sexual assault,” Hanna said. “[Rape survivors] may have thought nothing would happen with their case so we have to acknowledge that there is a range of reactions.”

If SB 316 is successful, the backlog of rape kits in Ohio will be gone by March 2016 and should remain eliminated if law enforcement agencies continue to follow the law.

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