By Alison Bowen Chicago Tribune
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) As Alison Bowen reports, "In the past, rape kit processing has been plagued by missteps, lost evidence and, too frequently, a void of information for the women who have the most at stake." Now victims will be able to monitor their cases online step by step.
Sexual assault victims in Illinois will soon be able to follow the progress of their rape kits.
By the end of the year, Illinois will join other states in implementing an online tracking system to monitor the DNA evidence, according to Illinois State Police's acting director Brendan Kelly.
"Survivors of sexual assault or violent crime shouldn't be left in the dark while their kit makes its way through a system that can seem cold and indifferent," Kelly said in a statement Sunday announcing the online tracking plan.
In the past, rape kit processing has been plagued by missteps, lost evidence and, too frequently, a void of information for the women who have the most at stake.
Sexual assault survivors will be able to monitor where evidence is throughout the evidence process, including at a hospital, with law enforcement, at a forensic lab and at the state's attorney's office.
Sarah Beuning, general counsel for the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the group supports the transparency that would be part of a tracking system, but wants to ensure funding is not diverted from anything that could speed long processing times.
"Our priority would be to have those kits turned around much more quickly, so that survivors are not waiting and don't have to check the tracking system," she said.
In December, advocates sent a letter to officials expressing concern that the tracking plan did not address long waits, noting that processing times can take a year and a half or longer.
Last summer, the Sexual Assault Evidence Tracking and Reporting Commission, a group of lawmakers, advocates and law enforcement officials, drafted a proposal for a system to track kits. The commission's suggestions were modeled after similar programs in other states. Idaho, Washington and Michigan already have established tracking systems.
Sarah Parsons has been waiting since August 2017 for DNA evidence to be analyzed from a rape kit collected in her case. She said Monday that she still has not heard back, even though it has now been about a year and a half.
In an interview last year, Parsons told the Tribune that she had been waiting for months with no idea where the evidence was or when more information, if any, might be delivered. Online tracking would at least provide some information, she said.
State legislators also have been working on legislation to establish such a system.
Kelly acknowledged a tracking system alone will not speed evidence processing times that exceed a year, but said transparency should help improve efficiency. By tracking where kits are and how long they take at each step in the process, officials hope they will better understand what measures might speed the process.
Monday, the Illinois Senate's Public Health and Criminal Law committees held a hearing on the state's backlog of DNA processing in murder cases. A previous hearing in December revealed that a state backlog of evidence includes 700 murders.
Groups that help survivors caution them it might take at least a year for evidence to be processed, Beuning said.
"There are some centers that say it could be up to 18 months, just to manage expectations," she said. "We don't try to lead the survivors to believe that it'll be less than a year, just because we just don't want them to be like, 'What happened?'"