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Missouri has sent more than 3,000 rape kits from state backlog to labs for testing

Jaclyn Driscoll | St. Louis Public Radio

Missouri officials say they’re making progress in clearing the backlog of 7,000 untested evidence kits in sexual assault cases.

For more than three years,Missouri officials have been finding, tracking and testing the state’s backlog of thousands of the unaccounted-for kits.

The state has sent 3,298 kits to labs for DNA testing, Attorney General Eric Schmitt announced Monday.

“We have more work to do,” Schmitt said. “But it is my hope that this incredible progress we’ve made sends a clear message to victims of sexual assault: We hear you.”

Rape kits contain biological evidence collected from victims shortly after they’re sexually assaulted or raped. Law enforcement officials send kits to labs that analyze them for DNA evidence.

Law enforcement then compares the samples with databases of known offenders to see if there is a match.

Testing a kit takes about 90 days.

Nearly half of the kits officials sent for testing have been returned. Of those, 500 had enough DNA evidence to be uploaded into the federal FBI’s criminal database. Of the 500 uploads into the database, there have been 201 matches.

Because of those matches, prosecutors have charged three suspects with rape.

The Attorney General’s office has spent more than three years tracking down the kits in hospitals and police evidence departments and sending them to be tested.

A 2018 Missouri law ordered the state to create guidelines for testing, processing and storing rape kits and requires health providers to give that evidence to police within 14 days. Law enforcement must submit evidence to crime labs 14 days after that.

“These kits have sat on shelves, in some instances for decades,” Schmitt said. “It provides some closure and makes sure those victims know there is someone, a group of us, fighting for them.”

Of the 7,000 kits in the backlog, about 4,000 were eligible for lab testing because they had a police report attached to them, a spokesman for Schmitt's office said.

A $2.8 million federal grant and $2.6 million in state funding have allowed officials to track down the kits and have them tested in out-of-state labs, said M. Keithley Williams, a former Jasper County trial judge who spearheaded the project.

Another round of federal funding will allow the state to update its inventory of backlogged kits, which are sometimes more than two decades old.

She said the testing will help keep criminals from assaulting people again.

“We’re talking about cases that include sexual predators, not just a one-time event,” Williams said, “people who on more than one occasion have been involved in these types of serious crimes.”

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Sarah Fentem reports on sickness and health as part of St. Louis Public Radio’s news team. She previously spent five years reporting for different NPR stations in Indiana, immersing herself deep, deep into an insurance policy beat from which she may never fully recover. A longitme NPR listener, she grew up hearing WQUB in Quincy, Illinois, which is now owned by STLPR. She lives in the Kingshighway Hills neighborhood, and in her spare time likes to watch old sitcoms, meticulously clean and organize her home and go on outdoor adventures with her fiancé Elliot. She has a cat, Lil Rock, and a dog, Ginger.