Public Safety

New rape kit tracking software provides transparency to sexual assault survivors

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller speaks in November 2018 at an election event in Des Moines. On Thursday, Miller announc
Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller speaks in November 2018 at an election event in Des Moines. On Thursday, Miller announced Iowa now has software in place that will allow sexual assault victims to track the status of their rape kits during an investigation, The state has been working to clear a backlog of 4,200 untested rape kits revealed in a 2016 audit. (The Gazette)
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DES MOINES — The Iowa Attorney General’s Office announced Thursday the final rollout of software that allows sexual assault victims to track the status of their rape evidence kits throughout processing.

Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and STACS DNA, a maker of the sample-tracking software, introduced the Track-Kit software during a virtual news conference.

The software is intended to address the thousands of kits that have gone untested for years.

“This is a major milestone in our office’s efforts to restore trust and transparency in sexual assault investigations,” Miller said. “We’ve reduced the backlog in untested kits, and, going forward, we can prevent such a problem from happening ever again.”

The Iowa Sexual Assault Kit Initiative was created in 2016 to address problems with rape-kit backlogs. The state discovered in a 2017 audit that 4,200 untested sexual assault evidence kits were in law enforcement offices throughout Iowa.

Robert Hammill, administrator of the attorney general’s Crime Victim Assistance Division, said 1,629 kits still need testing. About 80 percent of those remaining kits are eligible for testing, and about 20 percent didn’t warrant testing or couldn’t be tested.

Of the kits processed, 342 DNA profiles have been identified, with 242 matches found, Hammill said.

Stephan Bayens, commissioner of the Iowa Department of Public Safety, said the turnaround time for rape kits at the state crime lab has decreased with the hiring of additional criminalists and increased federal funding.

This year, the turnaround time for a test is 46 days. Last year, it averaged 199 days, Bayens said.

The state received a $796,985 grant to implement the Track-Kit software, which follows rape kits from collection at a hospital, to law enforcement, to the crime lab for analysis and back to law enforcement.

The training and rollout of the system to 1,500 users was completed this week.

Iowa is the seventh state to implement the rape kit tracking system, which Miller’s office choosing STACS DNA in November 2019.

Iowa will be the first to offer a feature that gives sexual assault nurse examiners the ability to scan rape kits using their cellphone cameras, which will save time, said Kyle Kipp, field application specialist for STACS DNA.

During the Thursday news conference, Kipp showed how the system works for medical professionals, law enforcement and victims. The system is straightforward and easy to follow. It even allows rape victims who don’t want to report an assault to track their kits.

The system shows when the kit was collected and the collector, if the victim consented to a forensic exam and what law enforcement agency picked up the kit.

Kipp said victims can see a timeline of the kit and where the kit is in the process. It also provides security and privacy to victims by letting them reset their passwords and check to see when they last logged in to verify the correct information.

“The Track-Kit system will connect more survivors to services, regardless of whether a survivor chooses to report, and will allow survivors to better advocate for themselves and their needs,” Matty Tate-Smith, communications specialist with the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said during the news conference.

Tate-Smith said that while preventing sexual violence is always the goal, the new tracking system is a step forward in increasing accountability and transparency.

Comments: (319) 398-8318; trish.mehaffey@thegazette.com

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