More than a year after discovering a backlog of more 3,000 untested rape kits, Kentucky authorities have completed testing slightly more than a third of them and are beginning to launch criminal investigations.
“You will see criminal proceedings this year,” Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear said Thursday.
Rape kits contain physical evidence collected from victims in the hours after a sexual assault. The process is invasive and emotional, yet victims hope it will lead to the capture of their perpetrator. But Kentucky, like other states, has lacked uniform policies for processing these kits, leaving many of them locked away in evidence rooms, unopened, for as many as 40 years.
The legislature approved spending $4.5 million last year to alleviate the backlog, and required law enforcement agencies to set timelines for submitting rape kit results to the Kentucky State Police crime lab, to be reviewed for accuracy. The money came from a lawsuit settlement between Johnson & Johnson and the attorney general’s office.
Thursday, the Kentucky State Police said they had identified 3,354 rape kits across the state. Of those, 2,100 from 75 of Kentucky’s 120 counties have been sent to an outside lab for testing and 1,168 of those tests are completed.
The state lab has reviewed 123 of them so far, with 21 being cross-referenced against a national DNA database for possible suspects. Of those, authorities have received 11 matches.
As officials continue sorting through the results, the attorney general’s office announced Thursday they will have someone looking over their shoulder. Beshear announced he awarded a $50,000 contract to the University of Louisville to research what caused the backlog and what the state can do to prevent it from happening again.
Bradley Campbell, an assistant professor at the U of L Department of Criminal Justice, said he will study kits that were tested versus those that were not in an attempt to find out why. He has worked on similar studies in jurisdictions in other states, including Houston, but said this will be one of the first to analyze kits statewide.
Beshear promised the findings would be available to the public on a website, so that authorities can be held accountable. The website is not yet available.
“Good or bad, all of the results will be transparent,” he said. “This backlog should have never happened. It was preventable.”