Arizona Capitol

Arizona Lawmakers Want Statewide Reporting on Untested Sexual Assault Kits

Some Arizona lawmakers want to take a statewide inventory of untested sexual-assault kits collected by law enforcement agencies.

In late 2012, an investigation by ABC 15 found that there were at least 3,000 such untested kits just in the Phoenix area, half of which were from the Phoenix Police Department.

"It takes a lot for a rape victim to go and report to begin with, and they do this horribly invasive exam . . . and in reality, most of these kits sit on shelves in evidence rooms," Democratic Senator Katie Hobbs tells New Times.

Back when ABC 15 did its report, the law enforcement agencies gave them a few reasons why all the kits weren't tested, like that the victim ultimately declined to prosecute, or when the identity of the suspect is known, and the question is over consent, rather than who the alleged assailant is. This is combined with the fact that testing these kits isn't free.

There have been similar reports of a backlog of these untested kits in other states, and there are groups such as the Rape Kit Action Project that are pushing for laws in states nationwide to deal with the issue.

Hobbs, the sponsor of Arizona's law to take a statewide inventory of the untested kits (Senate Bill 1429), says the ultimate goal is to have all of these kits tested in Arizona. She says, for one, testing all of the kits could help police "connect the dots," and possibly link a suspect to other crimes. Additionally, Hobbs -- who's worked as a social worker with domestic-violence victims -- says it's discouraging to rape victims to know that there are these untested kits.

"Already these victims go through so much," she says, adding that statewide testing of the kits would be an indication sexual assault is taken seriously in Arizona.

Groups that have become advocates on the issue, such as End the Backlog, claim that cities that have cleared their backlog of untested kits have solved crimes in the process.

The law Hobbs is proposing now would require all law enforcement agencies to report to the Arizona Department of Public Safety how many sexual assault kits they're storing, and how many of those are untested. The law would require that by March 2016, lawmakers receive a report detailing the state of the untested kits.

Ultimately, Hobbs is hoping to have a statewide law requiring the testing of all kits, but says this is the first step. Of course, it's an additional challenge in Arizona trying to get a law passed as a Democrat, but Hobbs -- the Senate minority leader -- sounded optimistic that she'd get some early Republican support.

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Matthew Hendley
Contact: Matthew Hendley