Lawmakers, advocates outraged over destruction of sex assault kits

Published: Oct. 11, 2016 at 10:48 PM HST|Updated: Oct. 11, 2016 at 11:06 PM HST
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(Image: Hawaii News Now)
(Image: Hawaii News Now)

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Lawmakers and advocates expressed outrage Tuesday after learning that HPD failed to disclose it's destroyed more than 1,000 untested sex assault evidence kits since 1992.

"I was shocked and in disbelief," said Catherine Betts, of the State Commission on the Status of Women.

State Sen. Will Espero, vice chairman of the Public Safety, Intergovernmental and Military Affairs Committee, agreed. "The idea that these kits are being thrown away is outrageous."

And State Rep. Della Au Belatti, a member of the Women's Legislative Caucus, said she wants answers. "They need to explain why kits were tested or untested, and why kits were destroyed," she said.

Hawaii News Now learned Monday that HPD has destroyed 1,165 of the 2,677 rape kits that have been collected since the 1990s.

A rape kit contains DNA evidence -- like skin, body fluids, or hair -- that are taken from victims and sealed in a box.

The box is sent to a lab, where it is processed to create a DNA profile of the attacker, and that profile is then put into a national database.

Advocates locally and nationally have called for universal rape kit testing because a significant portion of rapists are repeat offenders.

"Sex offenders that have done other crimes like a robbery or a burglary, wherever there's DNA evidence they would be able to identify that person in the occurrence of other crimes," Betts said.

The kit testing issue has become a hot one for lawmakers. This year, Act 207 was passed by the state Legislature after careful input from the women's legislative caucus. The law requires all Hawaii police departments to report the backlog of rape kits and come up with ways to have every one tested.

But the law didn't require departments to report how many untested rape kits had been destroyed.

And it appears the issue is not significant on the Neighbor Islands.

Hawaii County reports that they have collected 369 kits since 2001 and haven't destroyed any. The Kauai Police Department has destroyed three of the 226 collected since 2001. Maui Police could not say if any of the 166 collected since 1999 were destroyed.

The Honolulu Police Department is not disputing that 45 percent of its rape kits have been destroyed.

HPD officials say there are three reasons that they have trashed the kits: After the cases went to court, with permission from the prosecutors office or because the statute of limitations ran out.

But advocates question why HPD wasn't more forthcoming about the discarded kits.

"This is really the first time I've been hearing of kits actually being destroyed," Betts said, adding that HPD could have reported this in the months leading up to the passage of Act 207. She's concerned that HPD tried to hide the numbers.

Meanwhile, Belatti says that moving forward, every kit should be tested.

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