Update: Nevada backlog of untested rape kits

CARSON CITY, Nev. (KOLO) - Rape kit testing is an expensive process. Sometimes rape kits aren’t tested because other evidence can be used to convict the suspect. Or a suspect can plead out and the tests don’t have to be conducted.

Here in Nevada a total of 7683 kits need to be tested. The process is currently underway. Of those roughly 7600 untested rape kits here in Nevada, 930 came from law enforcement in Northern Nevada.

It’s estimated in most rape cases a woman knows her assailant. In 18% of sexual assaults the suspect is unknown--either way DNA can be placed into a national database.

“One of the things we have been discussing is the protocol for notifying the victim that their kit is being tested. And what they want to have happen and if they want to move forward,” says Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, who represents District 27 in Reno.

Benitez-Thompson is part of the Sexual Assault Kit Back Log Working Group. Members meet frequently to get updated on the testing of backlogged rape kits here in Nevada. She says so far at least one of the kits from Washoe County dates back 20 years.

She says she understands cost has played in role in why many law enforcement agencies have not tested all the kits--especially if they did not have to in order to convict a suspect. However with recent grants, that no longer has to happen.

And with the role DNA is now playing in crime-fighting efforts, she believes there should never be a backlog of such kits.

“Collecting evidence does no one any good if you can't send that evidence to the lab and know if this person is an offender and running rampant in our community,” says Benitez-Thompson.

The backlog of rape kits is not unique to our state.

Action is being taken all over the country in various states to put DNA results in the national database. Benitez-Thompson says if Nevada mirrors what is going on in Ohio, the 930 backlogged kits in Northern Nevada could prove to be fertile ground in solving cold cases.

“We imagine that 40% of those might end up with CODIS hits, people who are known to law enforcement when I say CODIS hits, and then from those we have to figure out what can be prosecuted,” says Benitez-Thompson.

Benitez-Thompson says this issue will soon fall into the laps of lawmakers who will have to look at funding what happens after the rape kits are tested.

Money will be needed to hire additional investigators ad even prosecutors. Just where that money will come from has yet to be determined.