Backlog of more than 10,000 kits effectively eliminated
SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced today that the last of more than 10,000 sexual assault kits have been cleared from shelves and sent to labs for testing. This marks a major milestone for the Attorney General’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. Washington’s backlog of rape kits has effectively been eliminated.
Clearing the backlog and testing the kits has helped solve at least 21 sexual assault cases — a number that is not exhaustive and will grow over time. The testing has resulted in more than 2,100 “hits” in the national DNA database, known as CODIS. A hit occurs when a DNA sample matches an individual or another case in the database, which generally consists of offenders.
The crimes that have been resolved as a result of these hits were committed against adults and children — including a victim as young as 3 years old — and occurred all over the state between 2002 and 2015.
“Effectively ending our sexual assault kit backlog is a historic step toward justice — but our work on behalf of survivors is not done,” Ferguson said. “Through this collective effort, we ensured that survivors’ voices are heard, reformed a broken system, improved testing times, and solved crimes. This success proves that government can solve big problems when we work together. We are committed to working with our partners in law enforcement to prevent any more backlogs so we have the best chance of solving these serious crimes.”
“We’ve come a long way to create a system that delivers justice for survivors whose sexual assault kits sat forgotten on shelves in evidence rooms across the state,” said Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, whose first bill to address this issue was introduced in 2015. “When I first started this work, I was shocked to learn that thousands of sexual assault kits remained untested. Over the course of many years and through multiple bills we have committed to testing our state’s entire backlog of sexual assault kits, leading to the arrest and prosecution of many perpetrators. Now, with a system in place for the state to test every sexual assault kit within 45 days, we are supporting and empowering victims and survivors.”
Testing these kits and adding the DNA to CODIS can help solve serious crimes and bring closure to countless victims.
As part of its SAKI project, the Attorney General conducted an inventory with every law enforcement agency in the state and determined the backlogged kits exceeded 10,000. At the time, more than 6,400 kits were still sitting on shelves at law enforcement agencies across the state. Some of the untested kits dated back to the 1980s.
Today all 10,134 backlogged sexual assault kits found in the office's inventory have been tested or submitted to a private lab for testing.
The Washington State Patrol is still reviewing approximately 1,000 tested kits, many of which will be added to CODIS. That process should be completed by the end of the year.
Background on sexual assault kit reforms
For years the Attorney General’s Office and law enforcement have worked with lawmakers to reform how sexual assault kits are collected and tested.
The goal was not only to clear the rape kit backlog, but also to prevent any future backlogs — fundamentally improving the system for survivors.
In 2015, the Legislature allocated funding to the state crime lab and passed a law requiring law enforcement agencies to submit all sexual assault kits for testing within 30 days of their receipt. Once the lab receives those kits, they must be tested within 45 days.
In 2016, the Legislature passed a first-in-the-nation tracking system so survivors could track their kits as they moved through the process, from collection at the hospital through the private lab testing and CODIS entry. Survivors can track their kits here.
In 2017, Ferguson applied for a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative Grant from the U.S. Department of Justice. Upon receiving $3 million in October that year, the Attorney General created the SAKI team and dedicated more than $1 million to private lab testing.
In 2018, SAKI completed its inventory by surveying law enforcement statewide. The agencies self-reported 6,725 rape kits that had yet to be submitted for crime lab testing. The following year testing began.
In 2019, the Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Best Practices Advisory Group convened in the Attorney General’s Office. The SAFE Advisory Group has not only assisted SAKI in reducing the number of untested sexual assault kits in Washington, but it also has helped improve best practices for managing all aspects of sexual assault investigations.
“When I was assaulted in 2014, I struggled to convince law enforcement to test my sexual assault kit,” said Leah Griffin, a member of the SAFE Advisory Group. “To the over 10,000 other survivors who shared my experience, I want you to know that this was not your fault. You were not uncooperative. The system was not designed for you, which is why I’m so proud of the work that has been led by survivors in partnership with Attorney General Bob Ferguson to ensure that no survivor in Washington will ever struggle again to have the evidence of their assault tested.”
Also in 2019, the state’s capital budget included funding for construction of a lab in Vancouver, which is now operational and has increased the volume of testing for kits. The Legislature also enacted a law in 2019 requiring law enforcement agencies to submit all previously untested kits that were collected prior to July 24, 2015.
In 2020, the Attorney General’s Office launched a website to provide comprehensive information about the SAKI project and keep the public updated on progress clearing the backlog.
Attorney General’s other SAKI work
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative has expanded to include additional grants for lawfully owed DNA collection, offering grants to local law enforcement for evidence storage, and funding local law enforcement forensic genetic genealogy testing for cold case evidence.
Ferguson has worked with local law enforcement to collect DNA samples from registered sex offenders, violent offenders and individuals convicted of serious felonies who failed to comply with a legal obligation to provide their DNA. As a result, more than 2,000 new profiles have been added to the national DNA database.
Forensic genetic genealogy grants from Ferguson’s office have helped solve multiple cold cases across the state — from Grays Harbor County on the Pacific Coast to Spokane County, from Pullman to Marysville.
The Attorney General’s Office has also provided more than $177,000 in grants to 53 local law enforcement agencies across the state with funding for refrigeration units to store evidence from sexual assault investigations.