Governor Doug Ducey plans to move forward immediately on recommendations from a task force that he created to clear a backlog of rape kits that have gone untested for years.
Released in a report on Monday, the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Task Force's recommendations include passing legislation to require that all rape kits be submitted to a laboratory for testing, and directing the Arizona Department of Public Safety to explore the possibility of contracting with a vendor that can create a statewide tracking system for rape kits.
The task force also makes recommendations on how law enforcement should treat sexual-assault victims "with dignity and respect." It notes that some victims may become uncooperative or recant, but that law enforcement shouldn't perceive that as an indication of a false report and should continue with a thorough evidence-based investigation.
"Today is a first step in the right direction toward bringing justice to victims of sexual violence," Ducey said in a statement. "Arizona is pleased to have seen two recent indictments thanks to early efforts to test these forgotten rape kits, but there is much more work to do."
A rape kit consists of evidence gathered from the victim by a medical professional. The evidence generally collected includes swabs, test tubes, and microscopic slides and evidence-collection envelopes for hairs and fibers.
There are currently 6,424 untested rape kits across Arizona, 4,367 of them in Maricopa County, according to the task force. Behind these numbers are people who underwent an examination after stating that they had been sexually assaulted.
In his State of the State Address in January, Ducey vowed to address the backlog. That same month, he issued an executive order to establish the task force.
Made up of law-enforcement officials, lawmakers, and advocates, the task force had a number of duties, from determining the number of untested rape kits to standardizing a testing process to creating policies to ensure that all kits will be appropriately tested and tracked in the future.
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Ducey also included $500,000 in the fiscal year 2016 budget to begin clearing the backlog. But the funding only covers testing for about 625 rape kits, according to the task force.
The good news is that national grants have been awarded to local jurisdictions, including the Maricopa County Attorney’s Office and the Phoenix Police Department, to test the remaining kits.
State Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, a member of the task force who has spent most of her career working as a social worker with assault victims, expressed confidence that every untested rape kit in the state will soon be tested.
"These recommendations, months of expertise in the making, will go a long way in not only bringing first-time offenders to justice but also shining a light on multiple offenders whose victims will soon get the closure they deserve," Hobbs said.