Professor, police chief discuss next steps after majority of rape kits in Utah went unprocessed

Posted at 9:50 PM, Apr 10, 2016
and last updated 2016-04-10 23:50:28-04

SALT LAKE CITY -- For the last 25 years, FBI crime reports have shown higher rates of rape in Utah than the national average.

As many as one in three women report they've been sexually assaulted, and new research suggests a majority of the state's rape kits are not processed.

“This study is about people,” said BYU professor Julie Valentine, the author. “It’s about every individual who these kits was collected from that were impacted by sexual violence.”

Two years ago, Valentine found only six percent of 270 rape cases in Utah between 2003 and 2011 led to prosecution. A major reason has been a backlog in sexual assault kits.

Her latest findings from 1,874 rape kits across the state show 62 percent have never been submitted to crime labs.

“That is justice denied,” Valentine said.

Only 22 percent of sexual assault kits were submitted to labs within a year of the crime. Similar studies in other areas of the U.S. find submission rates are higher at about 60 percent.

“Throughout the state we need to look at this at every level,” Valentine said. “The response to sexual assault involves multiple disciplines. It also is a call for action for our community, the state, to say, ‘We want to change this.’”

Chief Lee Russo of the West Valley City Police Department said they are working to make sure each kit will be processed.

“There’s no one silver bullet thing that can be done here,” he said. “One of the first things we did is we made the decision that every kit will be processed.”

Russo said the community must focus on bringing the perpetrators to justice instead of blaming the victims. In Utah, less than 12 percent of victims report sexual assault to police.

“When somebody makes a revelation that they have been victimized, they shouldn't be questioned or condemned,” Russo said.

Valentine says increasing that percentage is a priority.

“We want to actually increase that reporting rate, so that we can provide care for those victims, and also so we can get that evidence and be able to test it,” she said.

Russo said, along with increased training in his department, this is an opportunity to talk about what they will do next.

“How do we fix this and move forward and prevent it from continuing to happen again?” he said.

An additional 15 percent of rape kits were submitted to state crime labs in late 2014 through 2015 following pressure on law enforcement from the community.