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Sexual assault victims can track their kits with new system

UPDATED: Tue., Nov. 6, 2018, 3:32 p.m.

Vials of evidence in a sexual assault case are labeled and sorted in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Pat Sullivan / AP)
Vials of evidence in a sexual assault case are labeled and sorted in the biology lab at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston on Thursday, April 2, 2015. (Pat Sullivan / AP)

The Washington State Patrol has rolled out a new system for sexual assault victims to easily track rape kits as they’re processed though different government agencies, similar to how a UPS package is tracked online.

“This system is something different,” said Larry Hebert, director at the WSP Forensic Laboratory Services Bureau. “It’s essentially for the benefit of the survivors.”

Those who have kits currently in the system will be given an ID card with a log-in ID and a password at the time the kit is collected at the hospital. Each kit will have a bar code that’s scanned as it makes its way through the police department, the property rooms, the crime laboratories, the forensic scientists and back to the property rooms, and the victims will be able to track the progress online.

Before the tracking system was introduced, if the case wasn’t picked up by prosecutors, the victims would often experience radio silence.

“There was a kind of mystery for the survivors around what would happen to the kits and if they would every see it again,” said Erin Carden, volunteer coordinator and victim advocate for Lutheran Community Services NW.

“They’re asking, ‘What happened?’ ” she said. “Now they can follow up and get answers. It’s important that they have that information. It’s their information.”

Sexual assault survivors can get an examination at any of the six local hospitals, but it may take some time for the hospitals’ staff to use the system properly, Carden said.

Providence Health and Services and MultiCare Deaconess Hospital confirmed they are using the new tracking system.

“Every kit is being tracked,” said Kevin Maloney, spokesman for MultiCare Deaconess.

The system has been used in Canada, where the company that developed the software, STACS DNA, is based. The WSP, which deals with all the sexual assault testing in the state, signed the contract in July 2017, and the costs for the contract will total $771,922.47 until it expires in 2021.

Hebert said there’s no certainty as to how long it will take to process the kits, and it depends on the priority of the case, but his goal is for kits to be processed in 30 days, he said.

The new tracking system isn’t a response to the Washington state attorney general’s audit of law enforcement agencies’ storage facilities that found almost 6,500 sexual assault kits were at a standstill. It will help, said Hebert, but it could take two to three years to fully process all the old backlog kits. Some kits have been sitting around for 30 years while the WSP waits for federal funding, and the state is contracting with private companies to process all the old kits.

The WSP launched a pilot program in February with Tacoma Police Department, Lakewood Police Department and Pierce County Sheriff’s Department, and it was successful, Hebert said. North Carolina and Michigan are using a similar system, and Arizona and Texas are in the process of signing a contract with STACS DNA, Hebert said.

Editor’s note: This story was changed on November 6, 2018 to correct the name of Erin Carden.

 
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