The State Patrol has implemented recommended practices for testing kits and the sexual assault kit tracking system. Nonetheless, our audit shows that a backlog of untested kits remains. There are valid reasons for this, including disruptions stemming from the global pandemic that began in 2020. However, the State Patrol must prioritize planned improvements to ensure the testing backlog is eliminated. The audit also looked at Washington’s sexual assault kit tracking system. We found it follows legal requirements and recommended practices.
WSP Sexual Assault Kits Testing and Tracking
After a sexual assault occurs, forensic evidence is collected at a medical facility by a nurse or other medical professional. They package the evidence into a sexual assault kit, and send it to law enforcement organizations for testing. Testing these kits in a timely manner can help resolve crimes and ensure justice is served.
The Washington State Patrol is responsible for testing all sexual assault kits statewide. The agency can have tests performed at one of its crime labs or by contracting with a private lab. State Patrol also manages the statewide sexual assault kit tracking system. This system, established in 2018, provides more transparency around the testing process, particularly for survivors.
Washington’s backlog of untested sexual assault kits has been a long-standing concern for survivors, their families and advocates, law enforcement agencies and lawmakers. In 2019, the state Legislature increased funding for testing. At the same time, it set a deadline to test historical kits. It required the State Patrol to send kits to private labs for testing by Dec. 1, 2021. Lawmakers also required our Office to conduct a performance audit of the Washington State Patrol’s Crime Laboratory and sexual assault kit tracking program in 2022.
Read a two-page summary of the report.
Report Credits Report Number 1031309
State Auditor’s Office contacts
State Auditor Pat McCarthy
Scott Frank – Director of Performance and IT Audit
Justin Stowe – Assistant Director for Performance Audit
Tania Fleming – Principal Performance Auditor
Olha Bilobran – Lead Performance Auditor
Performance Audit Team
Holland Kitchell, Carly Schmidt
Kathleen Cooper – Director of Communications
- Key results
- Important steps taken
- Many kits remain untested
- Kit tracking system
In Washington, multiple organizations are involved in processing sexual assault kits. First, a nurse or other medical professional at a hospital or medical facility uses the kit to collect forensic evidence from the assault survivor. The hospital then notifies the police that the kit is ready to be collected. An officer then takes custody of the kit and completes paperwork on case details. This information guides testing decisions, such as which samples to test for DNA evidence. The police agency then submits the kit and paperwork to the Washington State Patrol Crime Laboratory for testing. In Washington, all kits must be submitted for testing, regardless of when they were collected or the status of the investigation. The only condition is that the survivor consented to testing. Delays can nonetheless arise between any points in the process.
In 2018, an official, statewide inventory determined that more than 9,000 sexual assault kits had been collected but not submitted for testing. The oldest untested kit reported by police dated back to 1982. In addition to these kits, the Washington State Patrol continued to receive about 2,000 new sexual assault kits each year for testing. The growing number of both old and new kits resulted in two backlogs at the agency. They are grouped as “historical” (collected before July 24, 2015, as noted in state law) and “newer” (collected after that). The Patrol manages these backlogs separately.
As of January 2022, there were more than 6,000 kits left to be tested:
- About 3,600 historical kits
- About 2,600 newer kits
Important steps taken
Among the changes the State Patrol had made to speed up processes for testing sexual assault kits were:
- Acquiring new equipment to automate the testing process
- Adopting a more efficient testing method
- Outsourcing some testing to private labs
The audit found that, in response to new legal requirements, Washington State Patrol took important steps to reduce its backlogs of untested kits. The agency made changes designed to make testing more efficient. However, the audit could not quantify their effect because not enough time has passed since their implementation.
Many kits remain untested
As of January 2022, State Patrol had tested 74 percent of all kits received since 2015. While law enforcement agencies and State Patrol submitted thousands of kits for testing before the deadlines, the agencies later found additional kits and there may be others. State Patrol officials noted that the COVID-19 pandemic contributed to delays in eliminating the backlogs.
The audit also learned that some other states had succeeded in clearing their backlogs of untested kits. For one thing, those states began addressing their backlogs of untested kits earlier than Washington. This meant they had already eliminated backlogs before the pandemic.
Kit tracking system
In the past, many survivors of sexual assault could not track their kit as it moved throughout the criminal justice process. States around the country, including Washington, have responded to these concerns by adopting kit-tracking systems. The audit looked at various aspects of Washington’s kit tracking system, comparing it to state law and recommended practices. We could not confirm that survivors’ experience was as they expected. Nor could we confirm that professional users completed data entry as the law requires. Nonetheless, we could observe the system’s functionality.
Washington’s system allows professional users – including medical facilities, police and labs – to update the kit’s information as it moves throughout the process. This information then flows into a separate survivor portal. This secure portal was designed to allow survivors to track their sexual assault kit at key steps, from collection to destruction. The audit found that the kit tracking system follows other required and recommended practices, such as having essential data fields and including historical kits in the system.
State Patrol officials noted that the survivor portal offers additional information to support survivors. It includes the contact information for the relevant medical and police offices, so they know who to contact if they have any questions or need help. The website also provides a list of resources and FAQs for survivors, such as the websites of survivor advocacy organizations.
Before we began the audit, the State Patrol had already taken steps to incorporate requirements and best practices into its sexual assault kit testing process and tracking system. These took place before the audit could be conducted within the legislatively mandated timeframe. This audit did not issue any formal recommendations. Instead, we strongly encourage State Patrol to continue its efforts to test all sexual assault kits in a timely manner. The Patrol should ensure the tracking system continues to give survivors the ability to track their kits. Our Office will check on the State Patrol’s progress again in a future audit. This issue must not fade from public scrutiny.