Colorado’s Rape Kit Legislation Has Already Resulted In New Leads And Convictions

Colorado is an interesting state in that we’re constantly turning to it to glimpse the largely positive effects of controversial policies. Exhibit A: legal recreational marijuana. And most recently, Exhibit B: Colorado’s elimination of rape kit backlogs. In cases of sexual assault, evidence is preserved in “rape kits,” many of which end up untested and backlogged, sitting on a shelf for years. But the passage of a state law in 2013 required Colorado authorities to test the state’s whole backlog of rape kits, and on Friday, the Colorado Bureau of Investigation announced that it had met these requirements.

A total of 3,542 untested rape kits were collected from roughly 300 law enforcement agencies across the state. Over the course of 18 months, the state spent $3.5 million and used four out-of-state laboratories to test all of the kits. The results were incredible. Testing those 3,542 rape kits resulted in 1,556 DNA profiles, and generated 691 investigative leads for police departments to begin pursuing.

Additionally, comprehensive testing of the state’s rape kit backlog has already resulted in convictions, offering justice to victims of sexual assault. As a result of the 2013 legislation, recent testing of a kit from a 1998 rape led to the conviction of a man who assaulted a then-14-year-old girl after purposefully getting her drunk. The Denver Post also reports that because of recent rape kit testing, two men face charges for allegedly raping a woman in an alley 32 years ago. With more that 1,500 DNA profiles and almost 700 new leads, even more convictions could soon start rolling out.

Last month, Coloardo Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law doubling the statute of limitations on rape to 20 years in response to many women who came forward with allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, and Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke is calling for an even longer statute of limitations. This makes sense considering how difficult it is for most victims of rape to come forward, fearing skepticism, abuse, and attacks on their character. It’s not uncommon for victims to come forward against their attackers only after another victim of the same attacker does so, which was the case with Cosby’s alleged victims.

But the 2013 legislation in Colorado now offers victims everywhere additional hope. Jan Girten, deputy director of the CBI, told The Denver Post she predicts the comprehensive testing of rape kits will encourage victims, who can be more confident “invasive” hospital tests for evidence could be worth it now that the law requires rape kits be tested and not merely shelved away.

Additionally, the state Bureau of Investigation received funding which will allow it to hire more scientists and even build a new lab for testing rape kits. The bureau is currently up to date on testing kits, and intends to keep up with the regular rape kit testing going forward.

Testing rape kits might seem like the obvious thing to do, but as the End the Backlog campaign points out, a lot of factors go into why, across the nation, so many kits end up being backlogged. A lack of resources is one common reason for this, as testing one rape kit costs anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500, but additionally, in most cases, the decision on whether to send a rape kit for testing often rests solely with the officer in charge of the case.

Officers and detectives tend to choose not to test kits if the victim is unable to identify an attacker, or if, for whatever reason, the officer doesn’t perceive the victim as credible or views the victim as uncooperative and determines the case is unlikely to move forward. False reporting occurs only between 2 and 10 percent of the time, according to estimates by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center published in 2015, but as End the Backlog points out, officers can “misinterpret survivors’ reactions and choices in the immediate aftermath of the assault” or altogether lack “understanding about how trauma can affect a survivor of rape.”

Testing backlogs is so important because it sends the message to victims of rape that their case actually matters, and that all possible steps will be taken to get justice for them. End the Backlog notes:

“When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack and discredit the suspect, connect the suspect to other crime scenes and exonerate innocent suspects.”

In the state of Colorado, between 2014 and 2015, reported cases of rape increased by a staggering 10 percent. This number is pretty terrifying on the surface, but it’s worth noting this sharp increase was partially due to the expansion of federal reporting standards to include more sex crimes, as well as more trust for law enforcement, according to The Denver Post’s report.

In an ideal world, there would be no rape to report and no rape kits to test, but for the moment, what’s happening in Colorado appears to be the closest we are to getting justice for victims. Not only is the state’s relatively new law regarding rape kits worth celebrating, but it’s also worth adopting in states across the nation.