Rape kit task force iden­ti­fies need for leg­is­la­tion

The Oklahoman - - NEWS - BY DARLA SLIPKE Staff Writer dslipke@ok­la­homan.com

Leg­is­la­tion is needed to act on some rec­om­men­da­tions de­vel­oped by a task force ex­am­in­ing the is­sue of untested rape kits in Ok­la­homa, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Mike Hunter said Thurs­day.

The task force added some new faces to the mix Thurs­day who could help pro­pel ef­forts to test thou­sands of pre­vi­ously un­sub­mit­ted kits that have been iden­ti­fied and im­prove the state’s re­sponse.

House Ma­jor­ity Floor Leader Jon Echols, of Ok­la­homa City, and Sen. Stephanie Bice, R-Ok­la­homa City, at­tended a task force meet­ing at Hunter’s re­quest.

It was the first meet­ing since Hunter’s of­fice as­sumed au­thor­ity over the task force last month.

Echols said money will be needed to fix the prob­lem, and he thinks there will be an ap­petite in the Leg­is­la­ture to find a way to get that done.

“I think on the House side you’re go­ing to see a bi­par­ti­san ef­fort to fix this prob­lem,” he said. “I hope that when a mem­ber of lead­er­ship comes to a task force like this, it sends a clear sig­nal that this is im­por­tant to us. … There is noth­ing more im­por­tant than tak­ing care of our most vul­ner­a­ble, and these kits all rep­re­sent a po­ten­tial vic­tim of a vi­o­lent crime.

“And frankly, to have them vi­o­lated again by the length of time it’s taken to get these tested is un­ac­cept­able.”

Sex­ual as­sault sur­vivors can choose to have a foren­sic exam done to re­ceive med­i­cal care and pre­serve po­ten­tial DNA ev­i­dence.

Ev­i­dence that is ob­tained is col­lected in what’s com­monly known as a rape kit.

More than 7,000 untested rape kits were iden­ti­fied through a statewide au­dit or­dered by Gov. Mary Fallin last year.

“It is un­ac­cept­able for this to have oc­curred, but I think I speak for every­body — we’re com­mit­ted not only to get­ting caught up but mak­ing sure this never hap­pens again,” said Hunter, who led Thurs­day’s meet­ing.

The task force, which in­cludes law en­force­ment of­fi­cers, a rape sur­vivor, vic­tim ad­vo­cates and oth­ers, has spent more than a year ex­am­in­ing the is­sue, but it has reached a point where fund­ing and leg­is­la­tion are needed to move for­ward with some of its rec­om­men­da­tions.

The task force has iden­ti­fied sev­eral ar­eas where leg­is­la­tion is needed: to im­ple­ment a statewide track­ing sys­tem; to im­ple­ment use of a stan­dard­ized rape kit statewide; to man­date preser­va­tion of rape kits for 50 years; and to man­date law en­force­ment agen­cies sub­mit kits for test­ing within 20 days go­ing for­ward.

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