BOISE — Someone is raped every two minutes in the United States, Jennifer Landhuis told a room of Idaho state legislators Thursday. That meant about 45 individuals had been raped during that legislative hearing alone.
The House Judiciary, Rules and Administration Committee unanimously approved a bill that would mandate law enforcement track all rape kits that are untested in the state. It will move forward to the House floor for debate.
Landhuis, director of social change for the Idaho Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence, supports the bill.
“Rape is a crime for which all too often the only one who pays the price is the victim,” Landhuis said.
She said only about 30 percent of victims report sexual abuse, so when a victim does come forward, it is important to take action.
Of those who report, she said, only about 8 percent of rape reports turn out to be false, which the FBI estimates is no higher than any other falsely reported crime.
In Idaho, a rape kit, which comes from the forensic exam a victim undergoes after a sexual assault, is not mandatorily tested. The kits look for DNA evidence to prove a sexual assault has occurred.
“I encourage you to look beyond the cardboard box that contains the evidence,” Landhuis told the committee members. “Each kit, in actuality, represents a human being. A victim who endured a crime that nobody deserves to endure. A victim who then endured a medical exam that is long and arduous. And a victim who deserves to have that kit tested.”
If law enforcement determines no crime has been committed, or a victim changes his or her mind and requested it not be tested, police do not submit the kit for testing.
The bill, sponsored by Rep. Melissa Wintrow, D-Boise, would mandate law enforcement track every kit it does not test and offer a reason as to why it was not tested.
If law enforcement chooses not to test a kit, a county prosecutor must then sign off on the decision, then putting another set of eyes on the decision, Wintrow said. All kits would not mandatorily be tested if the legislation passes.
The proposed legislation would state that when law enforcement decides to test a kit, the rape or sexual assault kit in question be submitted to the Idaho State Police lab within 30 days of obtaining the kit and the lab must have the kit tested and submitted to the Idaho DNA database within 90 days.
Cynthia Cook, a sexual assault nurse examiner, or SANE nurse, told the committee since 2001, the community has seen 1,590 victims of sexual assault and 1,272 of them chose to undergo an exam to have evidence collected.
The other 318 victims chose to not have evidence collected. She did not know how many of those kits were tested because the nurses either turn it into law enforcement or place it in an evidence locker. They play no role in deciding whether a kit is sent to the lab for testing.
Cook explained the process of what a sexual assault exam entails, including an assessment of the body for injuries, swabbing for DNA, taking photographs, interviewing the victim and then discharging the victim with any help they need or referrals they may need.
The Idaho State Police Forensic Services lab in Meridian is responsible for all testing of DNA in the state. Matthew Gamette, the lab's director of forensic services, testified in favor of the bill.
Gamette said without any law in place, the ISP lab cannot mandate law enforcement track why a kit wasn't tested. The lab also cannot force law enforcement agencies to provide them with that data.
While the lab does distribute kits to hospitals and law enforcement for use, the lab has no way of tracking what happens to that kit. There is no cost to the hospital to hold the kit and there is no cost to the victim, but the expense comes from ISP's budget.
The proposed legislation would change kits to include a serial number on all kits to help keep track of them, he said.
Gamette said he has three staff members and one supervisor. The proposed legislation would provide him with funding for two more staff members. The current turnaround time at ISP's lab is about 213 days to process DNA in a non-priority case. Nationally, the average DNA analyst can analyze about 59 DNA cases a year, Gamette said. But that would be all DNA submitted to a lab, not just DNA collected through a sexual assault kit.
In 2014, ISP received 93 sexual assault kits, and in 2015 it received 108 kits. Gamette said he anticipates that number will continue to increase in coming years.
Gamette said it costs about $3,000 to analyze a kit and he needs funding for two more staff members to handle testing in the timeframe the legislation proposes.
He noted that it can take six months to a year to train a new DNA analyst, so in the proposal's first year, they were asking for $220,000 and in years following $207,000 would be needed annually.
His strategic goal is to be able to test a DNA case within 30 days, which Gamette said prosecutors and the Idaho Supreme Court support.