Deep East Texas experts doubtful about effectiveness of rape kit backlog law

Deep East Texas experts doubtful about effectiveness of rape kit backlog law
Harold's House Ashley Cook believes the SAFER Act will at least create awareness for the need for shorter waits on rape kit results. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Harold's House Ashley Cook believes the SAFER Act will at least create awareness for the need for shorter waits on rape kit results. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Lisa King says the typical wait for rape kit results is 6 months, but it has been as long as 15 months to get the report. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner Lisa King says the typical wait for rape kit results is 6 months, but it has been as long as 15 months to get the report. (Source: KTRE Staff)

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - The SAFER Act is designed to reduce the national rape kit backlog. It was first enacted in 2013, but it was recently renewed thanks to a bi-partisan effort. 
Local experts on the topic praise the bill for raising awareness about the problem, but they still question its total effectiveness.

It takes Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners usually one exam to complete a rape kit.  The wait for results on numerous tests typically takes months says, SANE Lisa King.

"It's kinda normal for six months before law enforcement gets the result," King said. "However, it has also taken as long as 15 months to get the results."

A lot can happen during that time.

"To the point that there were kits in the crime lab in Austin that were actually growing mold on the outside of the kit," King said.

The SAFER Act attempts to shorten that wait by increasing funding spent on untested kits. The auditing of labs uncovered tens of thousands of untested rape kits. However, the terminology in that remains in the legislation is vague.

"The bill states the kit will be processed in a feasible amount of time as possible," King said.

Harold's House is where rape kit exams occur for children and adults from Deep East Texas.

"Our support is in the mental health arena," said Ashley Cook, the education director for Harold's House.

Cook said victims feel disconnected from their own case when results are slow to return. She's encouraged by another proposed idea that would give victims, prosecutors, and counselors the ability to track the rape kit's progress.

"So that they could look that up in an online system and see the progress just like you would check the tracking of a package that was delivered to you," Cook said. "And I think that is very empowering for victims and it helps everyone in the team."

In Deep East Texas last year, there were 169 sexual assault exams performed on children and adults at Harold's House. They join others in an agonizing wait for results.

There is a way that Texas motorists renewing their driver's license can help. They can donate to a fund to help process DNA kits. In Texas, backlogs have been cleared, but more sexual assault cases are added every day.

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