Not all rape kits are processed for DNA in Hawaii - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

Not all rape kits are processed for DNA in Hawaii

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

A Sexual Assault Evidence Collection kit is a rectangular cardboard box containing envelopes and swabs for gathering DNA evidence. The Sex Abuse Treatment Center distributes the kits to hospitals, physicians and police departments in all four counties. The center is also involved in a drive for accountability.

"When you use a kit in a sex assault case, what happens to that kit? How do we track it? How do we be accountable for it and how do we be responsible to that kit that was used during the course of a medical examination?" executive director Adriana Ramelli said.

Nationally, there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police laboratories. President Obama has pledged $35 million to reduce the backlog.

Actress Mariska Hargitay's Joyful Heart Foundation is making a documentary about the kit crisis.

"Our hope is that this film will shine a light on the rape kit backlog," she said at a recent news  conference in Detroit.

"Rape kit testing can help bring justice to victims of sexual assault and, in so doing, can ultimately bring healing for survivors and safety to our communities," the foundation's Hawaii CEO Maile Zambuto said.

In Hawaii all rape kits end up at the Honolulu Police Department for processing in HPD's crime lab. Records show in 2009 fewer than half of the 139 rape kits submitted were processed. So is there a backlog today?

"We don't know," Ramelli said.  "You need to have a starting point. You identify that there's a problem. You collectively come together and you work on it. And the starting point is developing that tracking system."

Hawaii's Attorney General's office is also after answers. It's working with county police departments, sex assault forensic examiners, and The Sex Abuse Treatment Center to create a tracking method for rape kits.

"You have police at the table with the prosecutors at the table with the medical examiners at the table with the advocates at the table, because everybody has a role and everybody is involved," Ramelli said.

The AG's office believes not every kit needs to be processed when other evidence is sufficient. In 2012 the state House passed a resolution that said HPD's crime lab has "maintained a manageable number of sex assault analysis requests," and a request to process a rape kit is up to the detective or prosecutor.

"We have been ahead of it and on top of it, and I think people are working very very hard to be accountable for these sex assault kits," Ramelli said.

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