Progress being made in Missouri's backlog of untested sexual assault kits

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SPRINGFIELD, Mo -- Missouri's Attorney General Eric Schmitt says his office is making progress in clearing a huge backlog of untested sexual assault kits that are sitting on shelves waiting to be tested by crime labs. The Safe Kits Initiative is in the first of three phases, currently trying to get a count of all the untested kits.

Schmitt began the safe kits initiative in February, after reports surfaced that thousands had not been tested, delaying prosecution of potential rapists. He hopes that by the end of the three phases all the kits will be accounted for and tested, and the state won't see a backlog like this ever again.

"We just want people to know that they can come forward and that ultimately we are going to get these tested an bring people to justice." said Schmitt.

He says the number of untested sexual assault kits in Missouri is more than five thousand.

"That was just from about a 40 percent participation rate of all the entities that could respond," Schmitt explained. "So the number of untested kits will be higher than that."

Schmitt's Safe Kits Initiative received nearly a two million dollar grant to clear the backlog. But with the grant process, there are three phases. Step one is to inventory all of the untested kits. Schmitt says they are making progress.

"We have inventoried about half of the law enforcement kits that are out there. And about 80 percent of hospitals."

"I want the backlog to be gone, I want the kits to be tested." said Dawn Day, the sexual assault program director at Mercy Hospital in Springfield.

She hopes the long delay in getting the kits tested hasn't prevented any victims from coming forward for help.

"If you are caught up in the what is taking so long, no one cares, we do care, everyone cares. And we are working to get there." Dawn added.

She thinks the solution to pushing through the backlog of untested kits is money.

"There is enough heart and soul and want and compassion to do the work. But you need bodies to be able to do it." said Dawn.

The next two phases of the Safe Kits Initiative is implementing a system to track all the kits and finally testing the kits themselves.

"It is important for the victims to know that we have their back, we are going to support them and bring them to justice." Schmitt added.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, testing in Springfield is anonymous and Mercy can test up to 5 days after an attack. Then they can hold onto that evidence for years so that if you didn't want to go to law enforcement initially, you could in the future.

Read the original version of this article at www.ky3.com.