FRANKFORT — Eleven years after college freshman Michelle Kupier was grabbed from her Cherokee Park home in Louisville and sexually assaulted under a neighbor's deck, her sexual-assault evidence kit was tested by authorities.
Evidence from the kit matched that from two other survivors' kits, and, in 2011, DNA from the three kits was found to match a man who is now behind bars.
"This is a powerful illustration that victims matter," state Auditor Adam Edelen said Wednesday in launching a statewide count of untested sexual-assault kits.
Kupier, who appeared with Edelen at a news conference in his office, said she doesn't know why it took so long to get her evidence kit tested.
Edelen said the statewide count of untested kits is a first step in coming up with recommendations for Kentucky's 2016 General Assembly to prevent backlogs of untested kits.
The statewide count was prompted by legislation sponsored this year by Sen. Denise Harper Angel, D-Louisville.
Senate Joint Resolution 20 calls on Edelen to count the number of untested sexual-assault evidence kits in the possession of law enforcement. Kentucky State Police officials have said there might be as many as 2,000 to 5,000 untested kits sitting on shelves in police stations and prosecutors' offices across the state.
Edelen said the kits contain biological evidence collected from assault victims during investigations and might contain DNA from assailants who can be identified by comparisons with the national DNA database.
"The ultimate goal of this effort is to identify perpetrators of sexual violence who may still be walking free and bring justice to survivors," he said. "Fixing the system so this problem doesn't happen again will be the next priority."
Edelen said his office would send out more than 400 surveys this week to police agencies across the state, including university police offices.
The survey will not list a deadline for submission, but Edelen said his office has the power to issue subpoenas if necessary.
He said he expected law enforcement officials to cooperate with the surveys.
In the fall, Edelen said, his office will announce results of the surveys and come up with recommendations for legislators to consider.
The survey will allow the state police forensic laboratory to pursue millions of dollars in grant money from the federal government and nonprofit foundations.
Laura Sudkamp, head of the state police lab, said it has a backlog of six to nine months for testing sexual-assault kits because of a staffing shortage. The lab gets 500 to 600 kits a year to test, she said.
Edelen said he didn't want to throw any aspersions on police because there might be valid reasons for not submitting some kits for free analysis at the state police central lab in Frankfort.
He said complexities involved in investigating sexual assaults might cause confusion among police agencies over which kits should be submitted.
"A lack of policies, regulations and statutes to guide local law enforcement are likely contributing to the problem," he said.
Several law enforcement and victim-advocate groups are offering their support to the kit count. They include state police, the Kentucky Sheriffs Association, Kentucky State Fraternal Order of Police and Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs.
Gretchen Hunt, an attorney for the sexual-assault programs group, said about 20 percent of women in Kentucky have been raped and about 47 percent have experienced sexual violence.
"It is a major problem," she said.
Kupier, who now is trying to finish college, applauded the statewide count of untested kits, predicting it would benefit victims.
Her assailant now is in prison for 33 years, she said.
"No prison term would have been long enough," she said. "We are real people."