Justice Dept. Seeks to Cut Backlog of Wash.'s Sexual Assault Kits.

Washington News Service: SEATTLE - Washington state is getting federal help to test the state's backlog of sexual assault kits.

The U.S. Justice Department's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative is distributing $34 million to 20 jurisdictions around the country.

Washington state will receive $3 million from the initiative.

State Rep. Tina Orwall, who has been working on the issue of untested kits, says the state began adding resources in 2015.

She says the Evergreen State has made some progress, but that this grant will give a big boost to its efforts.

"This grant is really that critical next step that we need to really move forward on the work," she states.

Back in 2015, the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs said there were about 6,000 untested rape kits, and so the state decided to invest nearly $2.5 million into tackling the issue.

Since then, more than 1,100 have been submitted for testing and more than 300 tests have been completed.

Last year, Orwall's bill to set up a tracking system passed the Legislature. She says that system will be online in late 2018 and that the Justice Department grant will help put current and older kits into the database.

In addition to justice for survivors, Orwall says kits also can prove innocence. She spoke about a bill passed two years ago allowing compensation for people wrongly convicted of crimes.

"Two of the first people exonerated in our state were by DNA who had been falsely accused of a sexual assault," she states. "And certainly, as we test these older kits, that can happen again, and that's an equally important way of seeking justice."

Orwall points out that unfortunately sexual assault is under-reported, but if survivors see that the state is prioritizing this crime, it could incentivize them to seek justice.

She commends survivors for working with the state through this process.

There are about 175,000 untested rape kits across the country, according to End The Backlog, a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation.


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