Transparency, Accountability, Reform: The Kentucky Audit Model

On September 21st, Kentucky State Auditor Adam Edelen announced findings from his office's statewide audit of untested sexual assault evidence, revealing that Kentucky has a backlog of 3,090 kits. Of those, 1,859 were found in law enforcement agencies and 1,231 are being held at the Kansas State Police crime laboratory. The audit was mandated by state law enacted in March. 

“The results of this initiative are stomach-turning,” Auditor Edelen said. “When a victim has the courage to undergo an invasive and traumatizing exam after an assault, he or she deserves to have the evidence in that sexual assault kit analyzed. One of government’s fundamental responsibilities is to bring these rapists to justice.”

In his report, Auditor Edelen pointed out key challenges in the way sexual assault evidence is handled that contributed to this backlog. Among them:

  • Lack of consistency amongst law enforcement agencies in their collection and submission policies, sharing that 41 percent of law enforcement agencies do not send all kits to the Kentucky State Police Laboratory for testing; 
  • The lengthy turnaround time at the lab (approximately 8 months to analyze sexual assault evidence), which can deter law enforcement from sending the evidence in the first place; and
  • The state’s lack of Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners. There are only 249 licensed SANEs to address the needs of Kentucky’s population of over 4.5 million residents. 

In response to the audit results, Auditor Edelen made several key suggestions to address the current backlog and also ensure a backlog does not reoccur. He suggested sexual assault kit submission guidelines— victim-centered and evidence-based written policies related to handling rape kits for law enforcement agencies—and passing legislation that would require police departments to submit all rape kits within 10 days of booking them into evidence. Auditor Edelen also stressed the importance of improved communication between law enforcement and the Kentucky State Police crime lab, specifically that the lab should accept all submitted sexual assault kits, whether or not the submitting police department has a suspect or not. Another key suggestion was to provide better and more consistent trauma-informed and victim-centered sexual assault case training to law enforcement professionals. 

The Kentucky State Police has already responded to these suggestions, assembling a multidisciplinary team which will include representation from the Commonwealth’s Attorney Association, Kentucky Association of Sexual Assault Programs and a Circuit Court judge and others.

Earlier this month, the Kentucky State Police Forensic Laboratories was awarded nearly $2 million by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. This funding will allow them to analyze 3,300 untested rape kits.

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