ST PAUL, Minn. — Why is it taking so long for my sexual assault kit to be tested?
That question is one victim survivors of rape are asking advocates across the state says Jude Foster with the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA).
“They want answers,” Foster said. “They want to know why their kits aren’t being tested.”
“What we’re hearing from advocates across the state is that it’s taking about eight months currently to test a current sexual assault kit,” said Foster. Her agency, MNCASA, represents rape crisis centers across Minnesota.
“There’s a group of really vulnerable people that have taken a great risk in disclosing to the criminal justice system and a lot of those people feel like they are not being taken seriously,” Foster said.
In addition to acknowledging a “pause” in testing Minnesota’s backlog of old untested kits, state officials now confirm it is often taking months to process newly submitted sexual assault kits.
“It could be as much as six, seven, eight months depending on the factors that are involved in it,” acknowledged Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) Superintendent Drew Evans.
A KARE 11 investigation finds a surge in other violent crimes and political gridlock in Minnesota’s divided legislature are to blame.
Overwhelmed Forensic Lab
The BCA runs the state crime lab, which according to Evans is overwhelmed handling the increased demand for forensic testing caused by a multi-year surge in other types of violent crime.
“We have a volume that’s higher than our capacity to be able to do those results in the time period that we find acceptable,” said Evans.
While the number of reported sexual assaults has not dramatically increased in recent years, the 2021 Uniform Crime Report released last month shows sharp escalation in other violent crimes including murder, aggravated assault, and robbery.
A prior KARE 11 investigation revealed that early this year, the BCA stopped processing the state’s backlog of old sexual assault kits discovered languishing on police department shelves for years — and even decades — without being tested.
The BCA acknowledged they paused testing those older kits back in January to redirect forensic testing resources to address current violent crime cases and just resumed working on the older kits this week.
However, even new cases of sexual assault are not having evidence processed in a timely manner.
According to MNCASA, Minnesota is making victims wait longer for their kit to be tested than most other states nationwide.
No Mandated Deadline
“I don’t understand why we have one of the longest turnaround times in the country,” Foster told KARE 11. She pointed out that many states are dealing with increased crime.
“Minnesota has one of the longest turnaround times for sexual assault kit testing in the entire country?” asked Investigative Reporter A.J. Lagoe.
“Yeah,” replied Foster. She said many other states have statutory deadlines for testing rape kits, but Minnesota does not.
According to research compiled in 2019 by the National Conference of State Legislatures, they include:
- California and Nevada: 120-day testing deadline.
- New York, Idaho, and South Dakota: 90-day testing deadline.
- Massachusetts: 30-day testing deadline.
In Minnesota, the law spells out how long law enforcement have to pick up a kit from a hospital or medical facility, and how long law enforcement has to turn it over to the crime lab. However, once at the lab, there is no statutory requirement spelling out the timeline for the kit to be tested and results returned to investigators.
Instead, the BCA has an unenforced goal.
“We should be at 30 days or less in our DNA laboratory. That’s our goal,” said Superintendent Evans. “That’s what we think provides the best answers to criminal investigations to be able to move cases forward.”
When asked why some rape kits taking eight months to process, Evans says the lab works on a triage system, prioritizing sex crime cases involving children and vulnerable adults, and handling rush requests on all sorts of evidence – from ballistics and shell casings to sex crimes – from law enforcement agencies statewide.
Every rush case makes those jumped in line wait that much longer, Evans explained.
“When victim survivors hear that there’s an eight-month turnaround time, and the justification for that is because violent crime is up, victim survivors ask, ‘Well aren’t I the victim of a violent crime, why isn’t my case being taken as seriously as some of these other crimes?’” Foster said.
The Minnesota Legislature had the opportunity to help address issues at the state lab during the last session but failed to take action.
Evans points out that there was bipartisan support for funding 11 additional forensic scientists to work at the lab on violent crimes cases including sexual assault. But lawmakers adjourned for the summer without passing it.
The legislature also failed to pass a bonding bill that included funds to build a new crime laboratory in Mankato with room for 50 additional scientists.
Advocates for rape victim survivors say they are paying the price for political gridlock.
“That’s a problem,” said Foster. “That’s a problem because I think when we can’t find compromises at the state legislature, a lot of people pay the consequences of that, and in this case – victim survivors of sexual assault. “
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