Oklahoma sexual assault survivors can track their rape kits

BY ASSOCIATED PRESS
01/18/2020 12:00 PM
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) – Oklahoma has adopted a new electronic tracking system that will allow sexual assault survivors to monitor the location and status of their rape kits.

The purpose of the system is to empower survivors with information, help law enforcement with investigations, and foster transparency and public trust, The Oklahoman reported. Only survivors and entities that update the system can access the records.

The Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation operates the system, which was authorized through legislation passed last year. A task force made recommendations in an effort to improve the state’s response to sexual assaults.

“I’m hoping it will hold all of us accountable to make sure that we don’t let victims fall through the cracks,” said Andrea Fielding, division director of criminalistics for the OSBI. “The ultimate goal for the state is that we're able as a state to strengthen all of our programs that are related to sexual assault.”

So far, 159 law enforcement agencies and 42 medical facilities are registered with the system, Fielding said.

Oklahoma has more than 350 law enforcement agencies. The fact that not all of them are registered with the tracking system could be because some of them have not had rape kits come through yet, Fielding said. It could also mean some agencies aren’t aware of the system or the requirement, she added.

Medical facilities that perform sexual assault forensic exams, law enforcement agencies, forensic labs and other entities that have the kits were required to start utilizing the new tracking system by Jan. 1.

Officials have emailed law enforcement agencies about recent law changes and hosted training events around the state. They also developed an online training for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner programs.

Officials plan to enter older, previously untested rape kits into the system. A 2017-18 audit revealed more than 7,200 untested rape kits in evidence rooms.

Two companies were under fire for saying they want to sell do-it-yourself rape kits to sexual assault survivors. In September, attorneys general in several states sent cease-and-desist letters to the MeToo Kits Company, based in New York City, and the New Jersey-based The Preserve Group, saying the evidence-collection kits are no substitute for a professional forensic exam.

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