Reporting a sexual assault can be difficult for victims, and for years in Idaho, some victims had no idea if the DNA rape kit they were screened for was actually tested.
KTVB has extensively reported on the backlog and the criticism that stemmed from it, but now victims can see exactly where investigators are in their investigation.
The Idaho State Police have created a new, online tracking system to track sexual assault evidence kits. They said it’s the first in the nation. It’s been up and running since January 2017.
"We're able to tell exactly how many kits we have in the state of Idaho, which ones have been tested, which ones have not been tested, what reason they haven't been tested,” said ISP Forensic Lab Director Matthew Gamette. “We're able to account for every kit that here in the state of Idaho."
For the last few years the state legislature has been working with law enforcement agencies to continue to push for victim's rights. This is part of that. Before the online tracker, victims of sexual assault who wanted to know the status of their kit didn't have instant access to that information.
"This is the worst time of their lives for most of them. This is a horrible tragedy that they've gone through,” ISP Colonel Kedrick Wills said. “If we can lessen that and make their life a little bit easier throughout the system, that's our goal."
Which is why ISP, with help and support from the Idaho Legislature, created the online sexual assault kit tracking system. Anyone can access and track the progress of the kits. It’s completely anonymous and is as simple as going to the website and typing in a serial number.
“The number on the kit here matches up with a number we give them as they leave the hospital or clinic where it's collected,” Gamette said. “They are able to enter information in the tracking system and follow their kit through the process."
"It allows the victim to be able to see where their evidence is going, where it is in the queue, “Wills said. “As opposed to that evidence being collected and them not knowing what happens next."
Something they hope will help with accountability and reassure victims their case is being taken seriously.
"There's a checks and balance here to make sure the evidence is processed correctly,” Wills said.
"I think it has given people piece of mind,” Gamette said. “We want to account for every kit that's been collected in the state. We want to make sure that the victim is getting justice.”
Especially when the testing process could be lengthy. ISP said since this online tracker was fully implemented last January, they've seen an increase in rape kits coming in.
It has added to the backlog in testing the kits. Right now, ISP has 102 kits that have been in the lab for more than 90 days. The goal is to test those kits within 90 days of receiving them.
Despite the backlog, they said because the legislature is taking up this issue, they've been able to add more resources and hopefully will be able to start catching up.
“We're putting some new processes online even right now,” Gamette said. “We're processing those kits faster, so we have an increased capacity to do work. We also added two staff members last year from the legislature."
Over the last few years, the Idaho Legislature has worked extensively to pass bills pushing for victims’ rights. Some of the work includes: establishing statewide standards for the storage and retention of sexual assault kits, and making sure sexual assault kits are provided for all victims regardless of their ability to pay for them.
ISP tells KTVB they're working with lawmakers this year to get a statewide standard in place for how rape kit evidence is collected. They also want to make it so victims don't have to pay for having those kits done.