If Utah values women’s lives, it won’t allow another rape kit to go untested

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Utah has a backlog of rape kits.

Hundreds of rape kits. At least 1,160, according to an April report.

But all is not lost. Thanks to an infusion of $3 million for the state crime lab, director Jay Henry says every kit will be tested — by 2018.

Every day a rape kit sits in an evidence locker untested, it allows a criminal to remain free. Every day a rape kit goes untested, it forces a victim to live in fear and doubt.

Every day the state says it cannot afford to test a rape kit, it tells a sexual assault victim she doesn’t matter.

Enough. Utah, a state where one out of every three women will be sexually assaulted in her lifetime, needs to test every rape kit.

Every single one, says Rep. Angela Romero. And she’s right.

Romero, a Salt Lake City Democrat, is working on a proposal requiring the state crime lab to test all rape kits collected by Utah police. Romero’s bill would then require the DNA to be catalogued so it could be tested in other rape cases.

She doesn’t know how much the program would cost. But it’s probably more than the $750,000 in additional crime lab funding proposed by Gov. Gary Herbert in his 2017 budget.

Utah law enforcement agencies collected 2,700 rape kits through 2014. In Northern Utah, some of those kits dated back 15 years.

After a public outcry, state lawmakers allocated about $3 million in additional funding in 2014 and 2015 to test the backlogged kits. The White House and the Manhattan district attorney’s office gave Utah another $1.4 million for testing in September 2015.

Even so, the state’s crime lab is so overwhelmed it could only process about a third of the evidence, according to an April report by Brigham Young University, leaving 1,160 kits untested.

Henry said all the kits would be tested by the end of this year. Now, even with roughly $4 million in new funding over the last three years, he expects the backlog to last until 2018.

The statistic about one in three Utah women experiencing sexual violence in her lifetime? It comes from the Utah Department of Health.

So does this statistic: In 2011 alone, sexual violence cost the Utah economy nearly $5 billion.

And so does this: Rapes in Utah started significantly exceeding national rates in 2000.

Yet it’s as if state lawmakers never even looked at the data from their own health department.

In a Legislature that’s 84.6 percent male, finding and prosecuting rapists simply isn’t a priority. And even with an additional $750,000 for the state crime lab, it still isn’t.

Research the cost of testing every rape kit. Then pass Romero’s bill and allocate the funding.

If women’s lives matter in Utah, we’ll eliminate the state’s backlog of rape kits in 2017 — and never allow another kit to go untested.

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