There was welcome news in an op-ed by Gov. Mike Dunleavy that laid out the state’s increasing efforts to protect women in Alaska, a state with the nation’s highest rate of rape.
“I am … proud to report that the Department of Public Safety has cleared the Alaska State Trooper backlog of sexual assault kits that once stood at 650 untested kits,” he wrote. “Testing of additional kits submitted by local agencies is funded and well underway, with all previously untested sexual assault kits projected to be processed by the end of 2020.
“Additionally, DPS has enlisted the University of Alaska Anchorage Justice Center to interview sexual assault victims and conduct research that will enable us to improve our investigative and prosecutorial techniques.”
That is good news, indeed.
A draft bill by Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, would require rape kits in Alaska be tested within six months — rather than within the current 12-month deadline. The proposal would help get the 3,400 kits now gathering dust on shelves and languishing in drawers across the state finally tested. Some of them, shamefully, date back to the year 2000.
Tarr’s proposed legislation would require the kits, used to collect evidence after an attack, be sent to an accredited lab or one operated by the Department of Public Safety within 30 days of collection. The lab would have six months to complete its examination.
Alaska’s rape kit problem is in no way unique. Rape kits, thousands of them, languish untested across the nation. The Accountability Project estimates there could be “hundreds of thousands” of them containing DNA or other vital evidence of sexual assaults gathering dust in police stations.
Alaska audited its backlog only after the Legislature, in 2017’s Senate Bill 55, demanded it do so.
With impetus from the state at the highest levels, and an effort to have the kits tested as quickly as possible, perhaps Alaska can begin to make a dent in this horrible problem.
Requiring the tests within six months is good. But the goal should be to have the kits tested almost immediately.
How much damage, after all, can a rapist do in a six-month period? How many new victims?