Missouri Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Wednesday the counting of untested sexual assault forensic evidence kits in Missouri is now complete, totaling 6,987 kits from across the state.
Schmitt said that only 830 of the nearly 7,000 kits had been previously tested. The backlog of SAFE kits dates back 39 years, with the oldest kit from 1980, according to the inventory report.
“These are 6,900 lives, people with stories, victimization and a lack of justice that goes all the way back to 1980,” said Elizabeth Herrera Eichenberger, executive director of True North, a woman’s shelter where the announcement was made. “To be able to have this initiative and make this issue a priority, it means everything.”
Of the almost 7,000 kits, 75.4% were reported to police, initiating a criminal investigation, while 24.6% were unreported. Boone County had 257 kits, 64 of which had no police report was filed.
Schmitt began the SAFE Kits Initiative in February to inventory the amount of untested SAFE kits and appointed Judge M. Keithley Williams to lead the audit. Kits were collected from law enforcement agencies, health care providers and ancillary organizations like prosecutors’ offices and prisons.
“These kits are not just numbers. They are not footnotes to reporting crime,” Schmitt said. “They represent real human beings who have suffered, confronted their fears, reported the assault and submitted a kit — a kit that may have been put on a shelf and remain untested until now.”
A Missourian investigation in late 2017 revealed the number of untested sexual assault evidence kits in Missouri was unknown. Former Attorney General Josh Hawley announced shortly after the investigation that his office would conduct an audit. The Missouri attorney general’s office applied for and received a $2.8 million grant from the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative to begin the audit and test kits.
The nationwide SAKI started in 2015 and is funded by the Bureau of Justice Assistance at the U.S. Department of Justice. The initiative helps state and local jurisdictions inventory and test SAFE kits.
“I would like to apologize to those victims that those kits have not been tested,” said Jennifer Carter-Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence. “It’s a disservice and a failure of Missouri, but everything is falling into place right now, that we’re able to move forward so that that doesn’t happen again.”
The attorney general’s office said it has received 75% of the grant and has applied for the remaining 25% of the grant.
The grant will now go toward testing the kits and the creation of an electronic evidence tracking system to centralize information and evidence, said Williams. The attorney general’s office will create that system, and Williams said the committee will meet tomorrow to begin developing the tracking system.
Williams said it is not currently required by law for stakeholders like hospitals and prosecutors’ offices to participate in evidence tracking systems, but this would be an initiative moving forward.
The attorney general’s office estimates it has enough grant money to test at least 1,250 kits and will ask for more money from the legislature to test every kit, Williams said.
Schmitt said the initiative will help avoid a backlog again in the future.
“With this inventory, we send a clear message to perpetrators and would-be perpetrators that if you commit a violent crime, an incredibly disturbing crime against people in the state, we will use everything in our power to bring you to justice,” Schmitt said.
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