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How State Senator Katie Hobbs Is Working to Eliminate Arizona's Backlog of Untested Rape Kits

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Senate Minority Leader Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, worked with victims of sexual violence as a social worker and knew there were rape kits that were going untested.

"I knew it was an issue, but I didn't know the extent of it," she tells New Times in an interview this week.

Hobbs learned just how bad the problem was three years ago when an ABC 15 investigation revealed that there were at least 3,000 untested rape kits in the Phoenix metro area. Today, there are more than 6,400 untested rape kits across Arizona, nearly 4,400 of them in Maricopa County.

The rape kits contain evidence collected during examinations of sexual-abuse victims. The evidence is used to identify offenders and bring them to justice.

Since learning out about the scope of the problem, Hobbs has made it a personal mission to ensure that all rape kits are tested. She is part of a task force formed by Arizona governor Doug Ducey that released a report this week with recommendations on how to address the backlog of untested rape kits in the state.

Hobbs says she's "thrilled" with the work the task force has done and believes "the right people were at the table."

"This is an issue that I care a lot about, but I certainly don't know all the ins and outs," Hobbs explains. "So I was glad that we brought in a ton of expertise."

The Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Task Force is made up of law-enforcement officials, lawmakers, and victims' advocates. Their recommendations include passing legislation to require all rape kits to be tested except in certain cases, and exploring the possibility of contracting with a vendor that can create a statewide tracking system for rape kits.

According to the task force's report, the backlog is attributable primarily to limited resources. The good news, Hobbs tells New Times, is that law-enforcement agencies have been receiving more grant funding to test the kits. She believes the task force's work had something to do with that.

"The fact that we were doing this work made Arizona a more desirable place to invest" grant money, she says. "If a state that hadn't done any work on this at all applied for funding, I think they would probably rank lower in terms of how the funding got distributed."

Governor Ducey created the task force through an executive order this past January, several months after Hobbs brought the backlog to his attention during a meeting and spoke to him about legislation she'd tried to pass.

Had it been passed into law, SB 1429, which Hobbs introduced in February 2015, would have required law-enforcement agencies to compile a report containing the number of untested rape kits in their possession, the date the kits were collected, and the reason they haven't been tested.

The Senate Rules Committee passed the bill by a 6-0 vote, but it did not move further. Hobbs says she never got a straight answer from then-State Senate President Andy Biggs as to why he didn't bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote.

But that wasn't the end of the road for Hobbs' efforts.

"A few months after meeting with the governor, his office called me and said, 'He's going to announce an executive order to create this task force, and we want you to be on the task force,'" she recounts.

Sure enough, during his State of the State address in January, Ducey called the rape-kit backlog an "injustice" and announced he had signed an executive order establishing the Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Task Force. He directed the task force to draw up a plan to address the problem.

"I want a plan, to be followed by legislation, that requires every rape kit to be investigated," Ducey said in his address.

Earlier this week, the governor called the task force's recommendations "a first step in the right direction toward bringing justice to victims of sexual violence."

Hobbs says she's glad she found a way to "get something to happen on an issue I care about, even if I couldn't pass legislation." She intends to continue working until she reaches her goal of having all rape kits tested in Arizona. 

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