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The Oklahoman | Editorial | Strides being made on untested Oklahoma rape kits

The Oklahoman | Editorial | Strides being made on untested Oklahoma rape kits

Strides being made on untested Oklahoma rape kits

By The Oklahoman Editorial Board | Published: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2018

FOR those who have been victims of sexual assault, Oklahoma's effort to address its backlog of untested rape kits has no doubt been a long and difficult slog. Progress is being made, however.

Attorney General Mike Hunter, whose office recently assumed authority over a task force that spent about a year studying this issue, announced last week that the panel has approved a priority listing for testing of the kits.

The kits are forensic exams used to collect evidence from sexual assault victims. A statewide audit ordered by the governor's office in 2017 identified more than 7,000 untested rape kits in law enforcement agencies statewide, something Hunter and others have rightly called unacceptable.

The task force has worked to come up with the best way forward, recommending such things as using a standardized rape kit statewide and requiring law enforcement agencies to submit their kits for testing within 20 days. These require action by the Legislature, which should give them due consideration.

In the meantime, the task force has created three categories of backlogged kits that should be tested. In each category, preference will be given to the most recent cases.

Highest-priority kits include the following criteria: They fall within the statute of limitations; the suspect is unknown; the case involved violence or forced involvement; a child is involved; there is potential the suspect is a serial or repeat offender; the victim is a senior citizen or has diminished mental capacity; multiple suspects are involved; charges have been filed or are pending.

Second-tier priority includes these criteria: The case is within the statute of limitations; the suspect is known or the case involves a date rape; the prosecutor declines charges; the victim is uncooperative; there is no accusation of rape or sexual assault; the victim and suspect say intercourse occurred.

Kits with the lowest priority are those involving cases that are beyond the statute of limitations.

Kits that won't be tested include those where the victim hasn't reported to law enforcement and those where the victim has asked that the kit not be tested.

The attorney general's office will work with law enforcement and prosecutors to evaluate untested kits and determine their priority listing.

Going hand in hand with this development is the news the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation, which tests the kits, is implementing a kit tracking system that should be up and running in February. The system will allow victims, medical professionals and law enforcement to track the status of rape kits during their testing.

“Our goal is for there to be no more ambiguities in the system and with the continuous progress being made, we are well on our way to achieving that outcome,” Hunter says.

Additional work remains on this important project, but these steps are noteworthy and encouraging.