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New bill takes aim at state's rape kit backlog

caption: Democratic Representative Tina Orwall of Washington's 33rd Legislative District.
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Democratic Representative Tina Orwall of Washington's 33rd Legislative District.
Courtesy of Rep. Tina Orwall

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that would eventually eliminate the state’s backlog of around 7,000 boxes of untested rape evidence.

Right now, it takes over a year on average to test evidence from a sexual assault. Sometimes it takes over three years.

House Bill 1166 seeks to modernize the state crime lab and increase the pace of DNA testing.

If it passes, the state would have until December 1, 2021 to test all rape kits that were collected before July 24, 2015, the date when the state first mandated all rape kits be tested.

The bill would also require that by May 1, 2022 the crime lab speed up their pace and completely test a rape kit in 45 days or less.

The state crime lab needs more people and better equipment to achieve these goals.

“Some of the robotics they’re using are 18 years old,” said bill sponsor, Rep. Tina Orwall of Des Moines.

The Washington State Patrol is currently constructing new space for a modern, high-efficiency lab in Vancouver, Washington.

“The equipment it will take to build a high throughput lab is very expensive to have the robotics and the stations that are necessary,” Washington State Patrol Captain Monica Alexander said in testimony before the House Public Safety Committee on January 22.

Orwall estimates the improved lab would cost the state roughly $13 million dollars. In the meantime, new untested evidence is beginning to pile up, weighing heavily on people who have been raped.

Advocate Leah Griffin testified in Olympia about waiting for DNA testing after she was raped.

“It was a time in which I couldn’t heal because I was constantly thinking about, 'What am I going to say in court? What am I going to do when this evidence comes back?'” she said. “It is a time of limbo that is absolutely hellish. It is obscene that we are putting survivors through this.”

Cutting DNA testing time down to a month and a half is reasonable and what we should expect from the state labs, she said.

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