Ohio Attorney General calls for Statewide Protocol for Rape Kit Testing

Ohio Attorney General Michael DeWine has called for a statewide protocol on how to handle rape kit testing. Photography by: Jack Kustro

Following a disclosure by Cuyahoga County prosecutors that an untested rape kit linked to a serial-killing suspect, Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine has called for a statewide protocol based on  best practices of how rape case evidence should be handled and tested. He will be forming an 11-member Sexual Assault Kit Testing Commission to produce the  “Ohio Model Sexual Assault Kit Testing Guide.”

In 2009, the Cleveland Heights Police Department took custody of the rape kit, which contained DNA evidence left on a victim’s body following a sexual assault, but it was never sent out to a crime lab for testing. Last week, the county prosecutors office revealed that evidence contained in this rape kit linked to Anthony Sowell, who has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, abusing a corpse and tampering with evidence in the deaths of the 11 women. He faces the death penalty if convicted.

Cleveland and Cincinnati are just a few of the large cities in the country wrangling with extensive backlogs of rape kits that have not been tested. According to the article in The Plain Dealer, the city of Cleveland didn’t know how many untested kits were mounting in evidence rooms until recently. In late 2009, the Cleveland Police Department began counting their rape kits  and as of last month, officials were still cataloging the evidence. They have identified a total of 6,184 rape kits collected from 1991 through 2010. More than half–almost 3,600 kits–have not been submitted for forensic testing, according to police spokesman Sgt. Sammy Morris.

An editorial accompanying the article discussed how a lack of uniformity across the state for how police departments handle rape kits leads to chaos and lack of accountability in the criminal justice system and lost justice for survivors:

…Procedures vary from department to department. There is no oversight, no accountability….

The sooner DeWine sets standards for testing and tracking rape kits, the sooner police departments can be held accountable for how they handle sexual assault investigations.

Survivors deserve nothing less.

We agree.

The commission will hold its first meeting June 14 in Columbus.

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