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Sexual assault advocates call for changes to Delaware's handling of rape kits

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Advocates for sexual assault survivors are calling for changes in how the First State handles rape kits.

Ilse Knecht is with the Joyful Heart Foundation. She applauds steps taken in 2015 to identify a backlog of more than 1,000 untested rape kits and work to get them tested. So far, 821 have been tested.

One Wilmington man suspected of a 2017 rape has been charged with two other attacks - thanks to a rape kit tested as part of that initiative. But the suspect's DNA sample was found in a box of undiscovered DNA samples dating back to 2001. It was found in 2014, but kept secret until the News Journal made its existence public last fall.

The News Journal reported if the DNA sample had been loaded into an offender database, it could have prevented at least two rapes he allegedly committed. Delaware’s Director of Homeland Security Sec. Robert Coupe said last month mismanagement, short-staffing and lack of oversight led to the samples sitting undiscovered for years. Coupe said new procedures and protocols have been put into place since the box’s discovery.

Knecht said lawmakers need to go further in changed how it handles rape kits. The foundation is calling for a statewide tracking system of rape kits, mandated testing of all newly collected kits and annual audits of untested kits.

Knecht wants the state to disclose how many rape kits are untested each year, how long they’ve sat untested and whether the statute of limitations on the case has run out.

“We want to make that there’s kind of a transparency and accountability provision that just every year go back and look at what’s sitting in your inventory so you don’t get back into that situation where you have untested kits sitting there,” she said.

Michael Kelly is Delaware’s coordinator of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. He said they’re close to finishing the statewide rape kit tracking system, but lawmakers passed legislation last year that delayed the project.

“But I’ve been assured that we will be taken care very soon," he said. "And I’m hopeful for the first quarter of this year to have a beta test on the project to make any final changes. But that will be operational this year.”Those who have ever had a sexual assault kit collected and would like more information about those kits should contact the Delaware Victim's Center at (800)-842-8461 or visit the Delaware SAKI website at cjc.delaware.gov.

A spokesman with the Attorney General’s office said not every rape kit is submitted for testing, as the Joyful Heart Foundation is calling for.

He said the Delaware Department the Justice expects kits be tested when law enforcement believes a crime was committed.

People who have had a sexual assault kit collected and would like more information about them can contact the Delaware Victim's Center at (800)-842-8461 or visit the Delaware SAKI website at cjc.delaware.gov.

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