Oregon making progress on backlogged rape kits

But Deschutes DA says more needs to be done

Clearing Oregon's rape kit backlog

BEND, Ore. - Oregon continues to play catch-up when it comes to processing backlogged rape kits. In fact, labs are actually falling further behind, despite a new law that requires testing. 

Last April, Oregon sent 2,800 rape kits to Utah for testing.  Since then, half of them have been tested.

Despite the progress, the number of rape kits waiting to be tested has quadrupled.

In 2016, Oregon lawmakers passed 'Melissa's Law.' It requires state crime labs to process backlogged, untested rape kits.

According to Janet Huerta, executive director of Saving Grace in Bend, the law puts Oregon on the right track.

"Now that there's been some movement and some resources and some putting actually biological technicians n place to do it, it feels like it's being taken seriously and moving in the right direction," Huerta said Monday. 

But sexual assault continues to be a problem, and rape kits are an important part of stopping the cycle, Huerta explained.

"Sexual assault is one of the least arrested and prosecuted crimes, of all violent crimes," she said. "The DNA from rape kits can both solve and prevent crimes."

So if a rape kit leads to an arrest, another sexual assault could be stopped.

Which is why, according to Deschutes County District Attorney John Hummel, much more needs to be done.

"I cannot think of anything more important than finding out out perpetuators of violent sexual assault," Hummel said. "So let's put a price tag on it, let's fund it, let's clear up the backlog -- let's do it now."

After Melissa's Law passed, $1.5 million was put toward hiring nine crime lab analysts at Oregon State Police crime labs, including one biology-processing analyst for the Bend facility.

But OSP Captain Bill Fugate said taking the time to train the new hires slows down the process. That is one reason why the backlog isn't being cleared out as quickly as many hoped.

But he says Oregon is on the right track and will continue to make headway in clearing the backlog

The Bend Police Department currently has 110 untested rape kits, and 89 tested kits. They're waiting on 20 kits to return from the Oregon State Police Crime Lab. 

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