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Keller: Rape Kit Backlog Persists

Keller: Rape Kit Backlog Persists

The audit revealed that New Mexico has the highest rate of untested rape kits per capita in the nation, at 254 per 100,000 residents. Michigan had the next highest rate at 153 per 100,000 residents.

Slow Progress In Reducing Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits

State Auditor Tim Keller Says Problem Can Be Solved

NM Has Highest Rate Of Untested Rape Kits In Nation

BY DENNIS DOMRZALSKI

The backlog of more than 5,000 untested rape kits in New Mexico has barely changed in the past year, but now, law enforcement agencies around the state know that they are required by state law to submit all kits to labs for analysis, and the problem is solvable, State Auditor Tim Keller said Tuesday.

It will take more money and people to eliminate the current backlog of 5,302 untested kits as it takes 40 to 55 hours and $1,000 to process a single kit, Keller and rape victim advocates said during a news conference in Albuquerque during which Keller detailed the results of his office’s audit of the untested kits.

The audit revealed that New Mexico has the highest rate of untested rape kits per capita in the nation, at 254 per 100,000 residents. Michigan had the next highest rate at 153 per 100,000 residents.

As of December 2015, there were 5,440 untested rape kits throughout the state, and today that number has fallen to 5,302, Keller said. Seventy-three percent of those untested kits are in Albuquerque, and the city and the Albuquerque Police Department have yet to develop a plan to reduce those numbers, the audit said.

“While prioritization analysis has provided clarity, the city has yet to develop and fund a concrete plan to move the needle on the backlog,” Keller said.

Keller’s audit found many reasons that rape kits have sat untested, some for more than 10 years. In 21 percent of the cases, victims didn’t cooperate with police, or police had lost contact with them. In another 21 percent of cases, law enforcement officials didn’t believe the victims. And in 36 percent of the cases, there was no known reason for why the kits weren’t tested.

Those statistics “are particularly troubling because they suggest a fundamental misunderstanding of the realities of the victim’s experience after a sexual assault,” the audit said. “First, victim cooperation and contact can be particularly difficult for victims of sexual assault. Sexual assault victims are three times more likely to experience depression, four times more likely to contemplate suicide, six times more likely to experience PTSD, 13 times more likely to abuse alcohol and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs.”

Keller said that in the past year his office has visited many police agencies throughout the state and those departments have expressed a willingness to cooperate to get untested kits to labs. And the State Forensic Lab has gotten $2.2 million in federal grants and legislative appropriations to work on reducing the backlog.

“With policies to overcome troubling long-held attitudes about victims, support for service providers an adequate funding, New Mexico can help lead the way by taking a concrete stand against sexual assault,” Keller said.

Victim advocate Connie Monahan, statewide coordinator for SANE, or Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners, said it takes between 40 to 55 hours, and about $1,000 for a lab to process a rape kit.

Scott Weaver, secretary of the New Mexico Department of Public Safety, said that money alone won’t reduce the backlog. It will require more people at the state lab, where most rural police departments send their rape kits.

“Currently, you cannot buy your way out of it,” Weaver said. “But money gets you started.”

 

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Dennis Domrzalski is managing editor of ABQ Free Press. Reach him at dennis@freeabq.com.

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  • Pete Dinelli
    December 6, 2016, 7:14 pm

    Keller said months ago that he is running for Mayor of Albuquerque. The motivation for his audits need to be questioned, not matter how noble they may appear to the public.

    REPLY
  • Trina
    March 5, 2017, 11:19 pm

    You know when I googled an old friend her name came up but I didn’t see it here now. Was the possible rape victim cinnamon elks back in the late 80’s or early 90’s?

    REPLY
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