Report details reasons behind untested rape kits

The University of Minnesota’s Twin Cities campus has one untested rape kit.

by Tiffany Lukk

For a variety of reasons, thousands of rape kits in Minnesota go untested.

According to a report released earlier this month, Minnesota has nearly 3,500 untested rape kits, which include evidence related to criminal sexual misconduct, like hair and clothing fibers. At the University of Minnesota, only one kit was found untested.

This summer, the state Legislature requested that the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension determine the number of untested rape kits in an effort to learn why so many aren’t processed.

About 240 departments reported having zero untested kits, which Anoka County Sheriff’s Office Commander Brian Podany said is unrealistic and may point towards possible illegal activities within police stations.

“By state statute, those kits can never be destroyed,” he said. “If an agency’s destroying those, it’s against the law. I’m not sure how many of them know that.”

Kristen Houlton Sukura, executive director of North Minneapolis’ Sexual Violence Center, said she fears the number of untested rape kits could contribute to a decrease in reporting.

A criminal sexual misconduct case can be reopened at any time if there is physical evidence. If a rape kit is disposed of before testing, it would interfere with a possible future investigation, she said.

Podany said kits may go untested because the accused admitted a sexual act occurred, a claim was found to be unfounded or a victim-survivor didn’t want the kit to be tested. A more rare reason is the test was anonymously reported.

The BCA surveyed 434 agencies and heard back from 409 of them. Of those, 171 reported they had untested kits, according to the report.

The amount of rape kits submitted to agencies in Minnesota has increased by 39 percent from 2014, the report said. By the end of the year, tests could take more than two months.

University Services spokesman Tim Busse said the school’s police gets between six and 12 kits per year. The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension’s report found one untested kit at UMPD.

The University of Minnesota Duluth police have 20 untested rape kits, and the city’s department has 578 untested kits.

UMD Lieutenant Sean Huls said Duluth was one of the first cities to accept anonymous kits, allowing victim-survivors to undergo a medical exam without having to report to the police.

“We’re constantly working on prevention and promotion events,” he said. “We know that sexual assaults are underreported. We know that the number of sexual assaults are remaining constant, but we like to see the number of reports going up because that means that our awareness campaigns about reporting are working.”

Hennepin County doesn’t accept anonymous reports, but its law enforcement is talking about starting to do so with their advocacy group, Huls said.

Sukura said Duluth’s anonymous reporting process is progressive.

“Every rape kit belongs to a real person, and that person has rights,” she said. “That person gave up evidence at that time not necessarily thinking they were going to go forward with the case. And we shouldn’t take that out of their hands.”