More rape kits in Southern Nevada being tested after new law

Updated February 28, 2018 - 5:26 pm

Police have worked through a chunk of untested rape kits in less than a year since state legislators passed a law to address a massive backlog.

According to data submitted Tuesday by the Metropolitan Police Department to lawmakers, 4,750 sexual assault kits in Southern Nevada remain untested. That is down from 6,473 untested kits as of December 2014 — the most recent figure available.

State Assembly leader Jason Frierson, chairman of the legislative commission that received the data on Tuesday, said he expects his colleagues might sponsor additional legislation in 2019 to further address the problem.

“I don’t think we should have a backlog. We need to identify the cause for the backlog — whether it’s resources or infrastructure — and make sure we address it,” Frierson said. “There’s always concern about making sure we handle kits in a way that we identify the perpetrator and eliminate those who are not.”

The police department’s forensic lab tested 2,350 kits in 2017, the data show. An additional 1,701 sexual assault kits will be shipped for testing before the end of April.

Northern Nevada had an estimated 1,111 untested rape kits, officials said last year.

The push to reduce the backlog was spearheaded by Senate leader Aaron Ford, Assembly Democrats Teresa Benitez-Thompson of Reno and Steve Yeager of Las Vegas, who sponsored a bill that required the tracking and testing of all kits.

The bill required law enforcement agencies to send all rape kits for testing within 30 days. Forensic labs must complete the tests within 120 days, the law said. It also required the Nevada attorney general’s office to track all rape kits by 2021. The Legislature allocated $3 million to help forensics labs reduce the backlog.

Rape kit backlogs, a problem across the country, have been blamed on a lack of training, resources and policies that outline when to test rape kits — leaving it up to detectives to decide on a case-by-case basis.

Nevada now requires all sexual assault kits to be tested. It’s a step in the right direction, advocates say, but more work needs to be done to bolster trauma training.

“They may sound like numbers, but each of those kits represents a person who went through this very invasive exam in an effort to address a crime that happened to them,” said Daniele Dreitzer, executive director of the Rape Crisis Center in Las Vegas. “When they’re not tested, it leaves that information out on the table.”

The testing of Nevada’s backlogged kits has led to criminal prosecutions of 11 serial sexual offenders since August, said attorney general’s office spokeswoman Monica Moazez.

The data presented Tuesday — which included Clark, Lincoln, Nye and Esmeralda counties — show 62 DNA profiles were entered into the local database and 61 were entered into the statewide database last year.

“This tells victims that their case is being taken seriously, that they’re being believed and every opportunity to bring the perpetrator to justice is being taken,” Dreitzer said.

Contact Ramona Giwargis at rgiwargis@reviewjournal.com or 702-380-4538. Follow @RamonaGiwargis on Twitter.

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