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Josh Hawley initiates investigation into rape kit backlog

Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced on Thursday that his office will initiate an audit looking into the reported backlog of unprocessed rape kits across the state.

“Rape kits provide a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting potential sex criminals. But both in Missouri and across the country, thousands of rape kits go untested, hamstringing law enforcement efforts to prosecute offenders,” Hawley said. “Every rape kit that goes untested means a rapist who remains on the streets, able to attack again, and a survivor who is denied justice. This is unacceptable. Our investigation will determine the scope of the problem in Missouri, the agencies responsible and the ways we can implement reform.”

Jennifer Carter Dochler, public policy director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said the audit is an important step in the state responding to sexual assault.

“We don’t know how many kits are at hospitals and different law enforcement across the state,” Dochler said.

Dochler said a reason completed rape kits may not be sent for questioning is because the victim is unsure if they want to move forward with an investigation.

“It’s a very difficult decision to make and there’s no right answer,” she said. “For some individuals it feels better to move forward with investigation, yet that can be a long process. It means having to talk about the assault multiple times and it can take several years to move forward to trial.”

Unprocessed rape kits at the Missouri State Highway Patrol crime lab were not readily available Thursday, Captain John Hotz said in an email.

ABC 17 News reached out to several law enforcement agencies Thursday who could not provide an approximate number of how many rape kits were still sitting at their department waiting to be sent to a crime lab.

Law enforcement officials said the rape kit is an important part of their investigation.

Dochler said victims have expressed frustration not know where their rape kits are at in the testing and processing phase.

“Often times they’re not notified,” she said. “Whereas in some other states, they actually have a tracking system that is clearly notifying victims of where the kit is in the process. We’d love to have something similar in Missouri.”

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