Gov. Matt Bevin won applause from the audience Wednesday night when he announced that Kentucky has cleared its backlog of several thousand untested sexual assault examination kits, held in inventory after being collected by police over the years.
“So many different offices, so many different people, so many different administrations have talked about it. And it’s finally cleared up,” Bevin told lawmakers in his State of the Commonwealth address.
“The backlog is gone,” Bevin said. “And congratulations to all those who helped to make sure that that happened.”
However, the backlog is nowhere near gone.
As of this week, the Kentucky State Police reported that 1,425 rape kits have been tested out of the 3,345 kits submitted for testing so far by police. That leaves nearly 2,000 examination kits to go.
Of those that have been tested, 41 DNA profiles have been entered into a national DNA database, and there have been 17 “hits” to known offenders.
On Wednesday, Bevin spokeswoman Amanda Stamper offered an explanation for the governor’s statement. Bevin meant that most of the untested rape kits are now in the possession of Kentucky State Police and await testing, Stamper said.
“The governor was referring to the fact that nearly all of the rape evidence kits — with only a handful of possible exceptions — have been cleared from submitting agencies across the state,” Stamper said.
“A majority of the kits have indeed already been tested, and thanks to the collaborative efforts of our Justice Cabinet, our labs and law enforcement to update policies and protocols, the path forward has been charted to ensure the rest are tested as quickly as possible,” she said.
Spokesmen for the Kentucky State Police and the Kentucky Justice and Public Safety Cabinet did not immediately return calls Thursday seeking explanation about the governor’s comments.
“I heard his speech, and I was like, ‘Oh!’” said Eileen Recktenwald, executive director of the Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs. “I guess I wonder what he meant by clearing the backlog. If he meant that we’ve gotten most of them into the lab, then yes, we have done that, and that’s good.”
Recktenwald’s group gets weekly updates from state police on the progress of testing rape kits, which it posts online at www.KentuckyBacklog.com.
“We are keeping a close eye on the real numbers, as you might imagine,” she said. “We are also notifying every single victim about what has happened to her kit and whether it has been tested or not. We want to be as accurate and as transparent as humanly possible.”
Collecting and testing the rape kits is just a first step, Recktenwald added. As more DNA from the kits is linked to existing DNA samples from offenders in the national database, prosecutors should be able to open cases and seek justice, she said.
In 2015, the state auditor announced that more than 3,000 untested rape kits were being held by state and local law-enforcement agencies around Kentucky. The kits contain biological evidence collected from assault victims during investigations and might contain DNA from assailants who can be identified by comparisons with a national DNA database.
The legislature last year agreed to spend $4.5 million to test the kits, and it required police to set deadlines for submitting rape kit results to the Kentucky State Police crime lab.
Attorney General Andy Beshear, whose office has helped provide millions of dollars to test the rape kits, was swift to criticize the governor.
“Suggesting the rape kit backlog has been cleared is a disservice to the victims still waiting for justice,” Beshear said.
“Over the last year, the AG’s office has worked tirelessly to fund an expansion of the crime lab, train law enforcement on investigating backlog cases and to prepare prosecutors. We will not rest until every victim has secured justice,” Beshear said.