Rebuilding Hope Celebrates the End of Sexual Assault Kit Backlog
On Thursday, October 26, Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson called a press conference to make a historic announcement – Washington State’s backlog of over 10,000 untested sexual assault kits has effectively been eliminated.
The backlog is a nationwide crisis dating back to the 1980s. In response to the growing problem, in 2014 President Obama’s budget proposal included dedicated funding for a grant program called the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) to provide much-needed support for communities as they work to end their backlogs, bring support to survivors, and improve processes for evidence collection and investigations moving forward.
The following year, the Washington State Legislature established the Sexual Assault Forensic Exams (SAFE) Task Force with a mission of reducing the State’s number of untested sexual assault kits. Original members of the Task Force represented survivors, law enforcement, forensics, prosecution, criminal defense, hospitals, and more.
In 2017, Ferguson applied for and was awarded a $3 million SAKI Grant, dedicating more than $1 million of those funds to private lab testing. Within a year, the Attorney General’s Initiative completed a statewide survey of law enforcement, determining that an excess of 10,000 sexual assault kits were waiting to be submitted for crime lab testing. The following year, testing began.
In subsequent years, Ferguson’s Initiative worked closely with the SAFE Task Force to reduce the number of untested sexual assault kits in Washington. 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, with at least 21 sexual assault cases already being solved as a result — a number that will most certainly continue to grow over time. Testing has also resulted in more than 2,100 matches in the national DNA database, known as CODIS.
In 2023, new legislation went into affect mandating that two of the SAFE voting seats be assigned to community-based sexual assault advocacy programs. Shortly thereafter, Carlyn Sampson, Executive Director of Rebuilding Hope Sexual Assault Center, was selected to serve as one of those voting members. Sampson had the privilege of joining Ferguson onstage at last month’s press conference, stating that, “…it was an honor to stand alongside so many partners who have fought long and hard to end the backlog. Washington State has sent a message to victim-survivors that they are seen, that they matter, and that we will continue to collaborate statewide to do better by them.”
Rebuilding Hope’s service model offers 24/7 in-person Advocate responses to local hospitals when survivors come in seeking a sexual assault forensic exam and treatment for injuries following an assault in Pierce and Kitsap counties. Since January 2022, Rebuilding Hope has received and responded to 581 calls for a hospital response to provide critical immediate and ongoing support to survivors and their loved ones.
In order to prevent future backlogs, Washington’s Legislature also passed a new law in 2015 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. The following year, the State went one step further, passing a first-in-the-nation system that enables survivors to track their kits as they move through the process, from collection to CODIS entry.
If you’re a survivor, or a loved one of a survivor, it’s never too late to reach out for support. Call Rebuilding Hope’s 24/7 Helpline today to learn about what resources are available to you at 1-855-757-7273.