Ending The Backlog: How Utah's Changing Treatment Of Sexual Assault Kits Can Help Survivors

Jul 12, 2017

In April of 2014, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced their “Code R Kit Project,” an effort to test the city’s more than 700 backlogged sexual assault kits.

On Tuesday, Mariah Noble of the Salt Lake Tribune reported that of the 767 total kits, nearly 600 had been tested as of last week. Of those tested, 89 matched DNA in CODIS, a national DNA database. The 89 matches discovered led to 63 viable investigations, and charges pressed in five cases.

In addition to grants to address the backlog of sexual assault kits, new legislation has been passed to prevent backlogging in the future. Representative Angela Romero works with End The Backlog, a Joyful Heart initiative focused on facilitating the testing of backlogged kits. She sponsored a bill that was signed into law this March, HB 200.

“It requires all sexual assault kits, except restricted kits, to be submitted to the crime lab and tested to obtain DNA,” she said. “Another part of it is that it provides sexual assault kit retention and disposal timelines. It also requires a state tracking system for sexual assault kits and increases sexual assault training opportunities for first responders and investigators.”

She said testing sexual assault kits is really about giving power back to survivors.

“A lot of people say, ‘Why should you test all kits?’ And I think this really comes down to survivors and how we respond to them whether we’re family, friends, police or prosecutor,” Romero said. “We want them to know that we take seriously what happened to them and that they matter. And I think — I know — processing all kits helps with the healing process, and it also helps with the decision whether to report.”

She said when survivors see sexual assault kits shelved or ignored, it can make it hard to have faith in the criminal justice process, or believe that reporting will help. While we’ve made good progress, she said we still progress to make, especially in terms of sexual assault prevention.

“There’s still a long way to go,” she said. “I also want to emphasize that my whole focus is doing more preventative work, and talking about what consent is, and what are healthy relationships, and starting in secondary education and having those conversations, so we’re not having the conversation we’re having right now.”

She said this isn’t the end of her efforts to help survivors.

“At the end of the day, our goal is to make sure that we give power back to that survivor, and that may not mean criminal prosecution,” Romero said. “That might mean counseling or changing a current situation. I, as an elected official, want to make sure that I give that power back to that individual so that they can self sustain. That’s really critical for me.”

You can click these links to learn more about resources for survivors, including the Utah Domestic Violence Coalition, the Utah Coalition Against Sexual Assault, and the Rape Recovery Center.