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Researcher Faults Law Enforcement Bias in Low Number of Processed Rape Kits

Brigham Young University

A Brigham Young University researcher says she has found significant bias in how Utah law enforcement decide to submit rape kits for testing.

Dr. Julie Valentine is a sexual assault nurse examiner and nursing professor at BYU. She’s the principal investigator in a new study on how rape kits are processed by law enforcement agencies in seven Utah counties. She found that within a year of an assault fewer than 23 percent of rape kits were submitted by law enforcement to the state crime lab for analysis. The rest either remain in law enforcement custody, have only recently been submitted or have been destroyed.

She says the jurisdiction where the victim was raped had the greatest influence on whether the kit was submitted for testing.

“It’s not that law enforcement has purposefully been ignoring these victims,” Valentine says. “It’s a lack of training. It’s a lack of understanding, what sexual assault does to the brain.”

The study, which included sexual assaults that took place from 2010- 2013 found that male victims were 46 percent more likely to have their kits tested. Drug-facilitated sexual assaults were 25 percent more likely to be tested. A victim’s rape kit was less likely to be tested if he or she used drugs prior to the assault, bathed after the assault, had a physical or mental impairment or knew the suspect.

Jay Henry is Director of the Utah State Crime Lab.

“We’ve told them in the past, hey, kind of be really careful about what you submit because we didn’t necessarily the resources back then,” Henry says. “But now we do. And so we started changing our tune a little bit. So we’re turning this ship. It’s taking a little time but we’re getting there.”

Dr. Julie Valentine recommends state legislators consider a new law that would require the submission of all sexual assault kits and a system that allows victims to track what stage of processing their kits are in.  

Whittney Evans grew up southern Ohio and has worked in public radio since 2005. She has a communications degree from Morehead State University in Morehead, Kentucky, where she learned the ropes of reporting, producing and hosting. Whittney moved to Utah in 2009 where she became a reporter, producer and morning host at KCPW. Her reporting ranges from the hyper-local issues affecting Salt Lake City residents, to state-wide issues of national interest. Outside of work, she enjoys playing the guitar and getting to know the breathtaking landscape of the Mountain West.
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