Delayed processing of sexual assault kits may compromise DNA evidence and impact investigations. For the most accurate results, and to ensure that serial rapists are identified as early as possible, testing of DNA evidence collected in sexual assault kits should not be postponed. Regardless of the victim’s post-assault activities, samples should be collected from the victim within five days of the sexual assault. Body fluids should be collected from areas where the perpetrator’s DNA may have been left on the victim and tested right away.
Thousands of Sexual Assault Kits Go Untested
Minnesota, as well as many other states, have a backlog of sexual assault kits stored in hospital refrigerators or on police department shelves waiting to be processed. According to state statutes of limitations, sex crimes can be prosecuted for up to nine years after a crime is committed, or three years after it’s reported, whichever is longer. In criminal cases where DNA evidence can be tested, there is no statute of limitations, so evidence should be kept indefinitely, even on closed cases.
Under Minnesota law, sexual assault victims don’t have to decide whether they want to report the assault to police when they’re examined at a hospital. Until the assault is reported, technically there is no crime and no case to investigate. Since sexual assault kits can’t be tested without the victim’s permission and many victims choose not to come forward, thousands of kits remain in storage untested.
Duluth has more untested sexual assault kits than any other state municipality, 550 kits compared to 194 kits in Minneapolis. Every few months, officials review hundreds of files and choose 10 kits for testing by the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension. Investigators prioritize kits by looking at certain criteria where DNA evidence is important in identifying the offender:
- Is the victim a minor?
- Does the victim want to press charges?
- Was the suspect a stranger?
- Did the suspect deny involvement in the assault?
- Is the suspect a potential serial offender?
In 2015, a report by the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension found approximately 3,500 untested kits stored by law enforcement for processing. A recent bill mandates that health care professionals who administer sexual assault kits must inform police of evidence, and kits must then be picked up within 10 days for processing.