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Iowa rape survivors can now track evidence kits

Sexual assault victims in Iowa can now track the location and testing status of their rape evidence kits as the state works to offer more transparency to an investigative process riddled by backlogs in the past.

In a news conference on Thursday, the Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced the launch of a software program called “Track-Kit,” which allows victims to follow their evidence kits from collection at the hospital to pick up by law enforcement, delivery to the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation crime lab and back to law enforcement for analysis.

A $796,985 grant from the U.S. Department of Justice helped fund the software, which was developed by STACS DNA, a sample-tracking software company. It is available on mobile and desktop devices.

“We think it’s important to add trust and transparency to the system,” said Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller.

Undergoing a rape kit exam is already traumatic for victims, said Matty Tate-Smith, spokesperson for the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

Then, victims have to undergo the anxiety of not knowing the location of their kit and its testing status.

Through the new program, victims can receive notifications and updates when their kit changes locations. The program also provides resources and contact information for nearby victim service programs, law enforcement agencies and health facilities.

The program also provides victims more control and allows them the ability to track their kits from the comfort of their homes, rather than having to call their local law enforcement agency and retelling their assault story, Davenport Police Sgt. Geoff Peiffer said.

“I think that’s a really good step forward in allowing people to research their case,” Peiffer said. “When they’re ready to ask questions … it makes it easier for them.”

The Iowa Department of Public Safety has been working through a backlog of untested rape kits and expediting its evidence processing.

In 2015, the Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative was created and a $3 million grant was granted to the state by the U.S. Department of Justice to help support the SAKI program.

Through an audit in 2017, the state learned there were an estimated 4,200 untested kits sitting at law enforcement agencies.

Since then,1,629 kits have been sent to private labs and 1,535 of those have been tested.

Out of those, 347 DNA profiles were entered into the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System, resulting in 242 matches as of Oct. 16, Iowa Public Safety Commissioner Stephan Bayens said.

About 80 percent of the untested kits in the backlog have been sent to private labs that were deemed eligible for testing, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

About 2,200 of the kits did not meet the state’s standards to get tested because of the survivor’s wishes or they did not meet the time period specified by the grant, said Lynn Hicks, spokesperson for the Attorney General’s Office.

As the state moves through the backlog of cases, the turnaround time for testing more recent kits at the DCI lab has significantly reduced, due to funding from the Legislature, grants and more efficient testing processes, Bayens said.

In 2019, the average lab processing time for kits were 199 days. Now, it’s 46 days as of September 2020.

“The commitment to dropping that turnaround time has been nothing but exemplary,” said Bayens.

If a victim didn’t initially want to press charges or take part in the criminal investigation, the Track-Kit software provides resources and law enforcement contact information if they decide they want to reopen a case.

“Every survivor is owed this steadfast commitment from the criminal justice system,” Bayens said. “Survivors of sexual assault deserve our time, attention and our best efforts.”

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