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Rape kit test backlog cleared in Santa Clara County

SAN JOSE, Calif. — A San Francisco Bay Area county has cleared its backlog of rape test kits and expedited the time that it takes to process them, officials said.

The 269 untested sexual assault evidence kits — collected from victims, suspects or both following a reported crime — that had been sitting in the county crime lab since May of 2018 have all been examined, the Santa Clara County District Attorney’s Office said.

In a report presented Tuesday to the Board of Supervisors, the office also said that as of the end of 2019, the processing period for kit examination in the county is 16 days. That’s down from an average of 94 days in 2018, and ahead of the 30-day completion goal the county had set for its crime lab, the Mercury News reported.

“There’s no other place in the country that’s testing kits even close to that rate,” District Attorney Jeff Rosen said.

The full scope of the problem of untested rape kits across California remains largely unknown.

In Santa Clara County, the stated backlog was confined to kits that had been submitted to the crime lab, and did not account for kits languishing in police warehouses.

A California Department of Justice audit due to be released this summer could shed light on just how many untested kits have been languishing in police evidence warehouses, possibly for decades.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, a national sexual assault victim advocate, estimates the true California backlog to be more than 13,000 kits.

“It’s been a national tragedy as to the way sexual assault kits are processed, how long it takes them, and how long the backlog is,” county Supervisor Cindy Chavez said. “In the state of California we have thousands and thousands of kits that haven’t been tested or are in some form of process. What that means is that somebody’s not getting their justice.”

Statewide, authorities and advocacy groups say they lack a full understanding of just how many sexual assault kits have been collected by police but not tested for any number of reasons. Until last year, when state lawmakers passed a bill mandating that evidence kits be processed within 120 days, the state only offered guidelines for how rape kits should be handled.

Last year, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill ordering a statewide audit of police agencies, hospitals, crime labs and any other facility that handles or stores sexual assault evidence kits to get a definitive count of the backlog of untested kits.

Police agencies across the state had a deadline of July 2019 to submit their figures and estimates to the state Attorney General’s Office, which now must submit a report to the Legislature this July based on the data.

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