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'People Are Speaking Out Now': Lawmakers Push For More Funding To Battle Growing Rape Kit Backlog

Photo of an evidence bag.
Renee Bright
Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City) introduced a bill in 2017 that called for $2.4 million to help clear the state's rape kit backlog. Two years later, that backlog has grown.

After Utah lawmakers approved a bill in 2017 that gave more money to the state’s crime lab to process sexual assault kits, the head of that lab estimated it could clear the backlog of untested kits in 2018. Now, the Department of Public Safety said it will take until July 2020 to get caught up.

The number of unprocessed kits has actually increased sincethe bill was passed in 2017, the Associated Press first reported this weekend. The crime lab has around 1,900 untested rape kits, a set of photographs and evidence that a person can choose to have taken at a hospital after reporting a sexual assault.

“I would have expected by now the backlog on the processing of the kits would be going down dramatically and not going up, so I’m very disappointed to hear that,” said Sen. Todd Weiler (R-Woods Cross), who sponsored the bill in the state Senate. 

The crime lab has faced an influx of rape kits over the past several years. Around 120 new ones are now submitted each month. 

“People are speaking out now,” said Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City), who introduced the 2017 law. “So many times when people have been a victim of sexual assault — and we still have an issue with this — they don’t report because they feel like they’re not going to [be] believed. So, for me, seeing more sexual assault kits being processed is very important.”

Romero’s bill called for roughly $2.4 million to help the crime lab clear the backlog. The legislature approved about half of that.

Romero has been pushing for more money since then. In 2019, the legislature appropriated another $500,000. Romero and Weiler both said they will work to get the crime lab more funding in the 2020 legislative session. 

“There is always a sense of urgency when it comes to sexual assault kits so that victims feel like they went through that whole process and they’re being supported,” Romero said.

Sonja Hutson is a politics and government reporter at KUER.
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