The Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office has been awarded a federal grant that will allow the state to test hundreds of backlogged rape evidence kits.
The $2.5 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance is a welcome opportunity to set things right for Oklahoma sexual assault victims.
A state task force found more than 7,200 untested sexual assault evidence kits among more than 300 agencies. That is an unacceptable record.
The backlog developed for myriad reasons, including having no consistent testing protocols and underfunding and understaffed sheriff and police departments.
The grant will be used to clear pending cases and fund other initiatives to aid in the response to sexual assaults.
Officials must learn from the mistakes that generated this problem, and never let it happen again.
The consistent failure to process rape kits in a timely fashion endangers the public by leaving rapists on the streets. It also denies justice to victims. It’s a troubling indictment of the state’s commitment and its competence.
The Legislature took steps in the right direction with the passage of several bills in the past session.
Among the reforms is a requirement for agencies to keep all rape evidence for at least 50 years or through the statute of limitations and a requirement for kits to be submitted for testing within 20 days of the rape report, except when a victim requests no testing.
Also, the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation is directed by Senate Bill 967 to develop a statewide tracking system for rape kits and place a priority on backlogged cases.
These are significant changes considering no previous laws directed the testing, maintenance or preservation of rape evidence. It was left to investigators handling the cases.
Attorney General Mike Hunter told The Oklahoman: “Kits are going to be tested, and we’ve taken steps to ensure that this backlog, this really regrettable backlog that was allowed to occur, won’t happen again.”
We applaud Hunter for this position and the lawmakers pushing for improved sexual assault response.