By Grace Deng / Washington State Standard
Over 10,000 backlogged sexual assault kits in Washington have been sent for testing, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said Thursday.
Ferguson’s announcement comes eight years after Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, first introduced HB 1068, which was later signed into law and began efforts to eliminate the backlog by requiring all law enforcement to submit sexual assault examination kits for testing.
Clearing the backlog has already helped solve at least 21 sexual assault cases. That number is expected to grow, Ferguson’s office said. Crimes solved included both children and adult victims, including one as young as 3 years old.
“This is a historic moment for Washington state,” Ferguson said. “Survivors’ stories are being heard, a broken system has been reformed, the culture has been changed, testing times have improved and crimes are being solved.”
Tests revealed more than 2,100 matches in the national DNA database, known as CODIS, which mainly consists of offenders. Around 1,000 kits are still being reviewed by the Washington State Patrol and will be added to CODIS by the end of the year, according to the attorney general’s office.
In 2019, the Legislature passed additional rules requiring the Washington State Patrol to eliminate the sexual assault kit backlog by December 2021. The bill also mandates testing be completed within 45 days of the request’s receipt.
Leah Griffin, a sexual assault survivor and advocate for survivors, said it took 14 months for her kit to get tested after she was raped in 2014.
“What I want to say to the survivors out there is that what happened to you was not your fault, that this backlog was not your fault,” Griffin said at Ferguson’s press conference. “You’re working in a system that was not designed for you, which is why I’m so proud of the group of people here who are redesigning that system.”
According to Ferguson, all kits are now tested within 45 days. Before 2015, it would take months “if it was done at all,” he said. Around 121 new sexual assault kits have been submitted every month this year.
“At the beginning, we didn’t even know how big the problem was,” Ferguson said. After conducting an inventory of backlogged kits, his office determined more than 6,400 of 10,000 weren’t submitted to labs yet by law enforcement. Some kits dated back to the 1980s.
Just two to three years ago, there were still around 6,000 untested kits, according to Chris Loftis, a spokesperson for the Washington State Patrol. The pandemic significantly slowed testing at commercial labs but the state was able to expedite the testing process as COVID receded, Loftis said.
State leaders at the press conference said more work is needed to ensure survivors receive justice. Orwall said she’s working with the attorney general to look into sexual assault on college campuses and within the K-12 education system.
“For survivors, I just want to say: ‘We’re sorry we failed you and we’re working hard to make sure that never happens again,’” Orwall said.
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