SALEM, Ore. — Commonly known as 'rape kits,' Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence (SAFE) Kits store vital evidence gathered by medical professionals in cases of possible sexual assault. As recently as 2015, the number of unprocessed, untested SAFE Kits numbered in the thousands—at least 4,900 throughout Oregon.
On Wednesday, Oregon Secretary of State Dennis Richardson announced that Oregon State Police (OSP), who are responsible for the processing of SAFE Kits, are making great strides in getting those kits tested and reducing the backlog, based on the results of a recent audit.
The Secretary's report contains some interesting background on the backlog. Although OSP processes SAFE Kits, the majority of unprocessed kits actually resided with local law enforcement agencies, who were not required to have those kits sent in to OSP and tested.
After the backlog was identified in 2015, Senate Bill 1571 made its way through the Oregon state legislature, and was signed into law in 2016.
Also known as Melissa's Law, SB 1571 was named after a 14-year-old girl who was raped and murdered in Portland in 2001, after law enforcement failed to process several SAFE Kits in previous cases that may have caught the perpetrator before the crime was committed.
Melissa's Law instituted a number of requirements on law enforcement to encourage the timely testing of SAFE Kits, including funding for kits to be sent and tested at private labs when necessary. Any non-anonymous kits (meaning the victim identified themselves and reported a crime) must be tested.
Secretary Richardson's report found that the backlog of unprocessed kits was down to 1,100 in 2017, compared to the 4,900 found in 2015. However, the audit primarily rates OSP by other benchmarks—essentially, to evaluate whether OSP is in compliance with Melissa's Law and other prevailing practices. By those standards, OSP is up to par, according to Richardson's office.
“Victims of sexual assault deserve to have justice as soon as possible,” said Secretary Richardson. “I’m thankful to the Oregon State Police Forensic Services Division for their strong efforts to remove the SAFE Kit backlog by the end of 2018."
The one note of discord to be found in Richardson's report relates to OSP's status as the central forensic testing site for law enforcement throughout Oregon. Because OSP has shifted their focus on processing forensic evidence to emphasize SAFE kits, testing of DNA collected by local law enforcement in cases of property crime has ground to a standstill.
"Local law enforcement agencies are eager for OSP to resume accepting DNA evidence for property crimes," said Richardson's report.
The full report summarizing the Secretary of State's audit may be found below.