State has made progress in testing sexual assault kits, but backlog remains, audit shows

Nov 1, 2022

Washington has followed best practices in speeding the testing of sexual assault kits and has implemented a kit tracking system, a new performance audit by the Office of the Washington State Auditor found. However, a backlog of untested kits remains.

More than 6,000 new and older kits remained untested at the time auditors reviewed the status of kits in process with the Washington State Patrol, in January 2022. Auditors also reviewed the practices of the Patrol's State Crime Laboratory and found it had implemented recommended practices. While auditors identified other states that have already eliminated their backlogs of untested kits, Washington started reforms later than those states and its efforts were hampered by the COVID-19 pandemic, which began in 2020.

“The Washington State Patrol has taken the right steps, but eliminating the backlog of untested sexual assault kits will take more time and it is still absolutely necessary,” said State Auditor Pat McCarthy. “We encourage the Patrol to continue its work, and we will return to this important subject again in the future.”

An online kit-tracking system established by the Patrol also follows recommended practices and related laws, auditors found. The system, launched in 2018, is designed to allow survivors of sexual assault to track the progress of submitted kits as they move from collection, to analysis, to storage and eventual destruction. Sexual assault kits contain forensic evidence collected at a medical facility by a nurse or other medical professional, and have the potential to identify assailants through DNA analysis.

In 2019, the Legislature enacted a package of reforms intended to eliminate what was then a backlog of approximately 9,000 untested kits, including establishing deadlines for testing all older kits. The legislation also required the State Auditor's Office to review the testing and tracking system in 2022. Because the Patrol followed the law's requirements, as well as recommended practices, the performance audit makes no formal recommendations. Instead, the audit suggests the Patrol continue its testing efforts and maintain its online tracking system.

Auditor McCarthy has committed to another audit of the testing process in the future to determine whether the backlog has been eliminated, and if improvements can be made. The performance audit published today can be found here, and summary online material can be found here.

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