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Justice Dept. Releases First-Ever Standards for Handling Rape Kits

Oregon has a backlog of about 4,900 untested rape kits, according to a 2015 report. (April Davis/Oregon Military Dept. Public Affairs)
Oregon has a backlog of about 4,900 untested rape kits, according to a 2015 report. (April Davis/Oregon Military Dept. Public Affairs)
August 9, 2017

PORTLAND, Ore. - The Justice Department has released a first-of-its-kind report detailing the best practices for handling sexual-assault kits. In Oregon, that number is in the thousands.

The report from the National Institute of Justice, the research arm of the Justice Department, includes 35 recommendations, emphasizing victim-centered approaches to sexual-assault cases.

"Having the federal government say this is the best practice is very much going to bolster our campaign to end the backlog by 2020," said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, a group that offers support for sexual-assault victims and advocates for testing of every kit in the nation's backlog.

While the exact number of backlogged kits in Oregon is unknown, an Oregon State Police report found there were 4,900 untested kits in 2015.

A 2016 law requires an annual audit of untested kits. The law also ensures that sexual-assault survivors can get information on the status of their kits from law-enforcement agencies.

The report also emphasized a trauma-informed approach to handling these cases. Knecht said this approach includes the psychological reactions to assault, which can lead a survivor to remember events out of order or fail to remember more details. She said police sometimes dismiss a survivor's story because of this.

"Trauma-informed and victim-centered approaches to working with survivors will help survivors stay engaged in the criminal-justice system," she said, "and that, in turn, enhances and improves the criminal-justice process."

The report recommends mandatory testing of all kits and that states set up a tracking system so that survivors can monitor testing progress. While Oregon requires law-enforcement agencies to update survivors on the status of kits, it has not yet put a tracking system in place.

The report is online at ncjrs.gov.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - OR