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'Rape kits' no longer collecting dust

Work is underway to reduce a backlog of unprocessed "rape kits."
Work is underway to reduce a backlog of unprocessed "rape kits."
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They're called "rape kits" or "sexual assault kits," and they're used to collect DNA evidence to help solve sex crimes. Around this time last year, we reported 7,500 of these kits had never been processed. The bulk of them, 6,500 were from Las Vegas. Around 1,200 were from crime scenes in northern Nevada.

The Nevada Attorney General's Office brought this to the forefront and has since been spearheading a working group and pushing to get these kits processed. News 4's Terri Hendry spoke with the experts at the Washoe County Crime Lab to get an idea on the progress being made to reduce the backlog in northern Nevada.

Supervising Criminalist Lisa Smyth-Roam, Ph.D., with Washoe County's Crime Lab Biology Unit, said, "There are probably a million reasons why these kits were not tested but some reasons include that there wasn't DNA testing at the time the evidence was gathered." She added some crimes were simply solved without ever having to rely on the evidence from the kits.

But Smyth-Roam said the science has now progressed to where the DNA evidence collected in all of these kits can be very useful. She said, "So now we can potentially link a lot of cases together, and even if they had been solved without DNA initially, they could help solve other cases by getting the profile into the DNA database."

Another reason many kits went unprocessed boiled down to money. Processing the kits can be expensive, but the AG's Office and the working group have been identifying and securing millions to reduce the backlog.

In northern Nevada, of the 1,200 unprocessed kits, funding to process them all has now been identified. Smyth-Roam said about 300 of the kits were processed by the FBI. She said, "We are expecting to receive some results in from the FBI testing now and over the next several weeks."

She said an additional 600 kits will now be processed thanks to a $400,000 grant secured with the help of the AG's Office. That leaves around 300 kits left to be processed. She said, "We have applied, along with the AG's Office for an additional grant that will mop up the rest of those kits."

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Smyth-Roam said once the kits are all processed, crime fighters will have another powerful tool to help solve crimes. She said the next big challenge will be to identify the funding to set up a statewide "rape kit" tracking system. She explained that system will help law enforcement know when and where DNA evidence is collected so they can then work to make sure the kit gets processed.

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