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Rape-kit reformers call on Illinois to help victims track cases

Michelle Kuiper, a Kentucky rape victim, speaks at the National Conference of State Legislatures summit at McCormick Place about the need for victims to be able to track the progress of their cases online. | Provided photo

As the Illinois crime lab struggles to reduce its backlog of DNA tests, a national rape-kit reform group on Monday called on states to launch computer systems that allow victims to check the status of their cases.

Test400K, an organization pushing for the elimination of a national backlog of an estimated 400,000 untested sexual-assault kits, launched its “Just Track It” campaign at the National Conference of State Legislatures summit at McCormick Place in Chicago.

Test400K is urging Gov. Bruce Rauner and other governors to adopt systems that track the status of rape kits from the hospital to police agencies to the labs that test them. Victims would have password-protected access to the tracking system through the internet.

Michigan and Washington already are preparing to launch their own statewide tracking systems. Washington State Rep. Tina Orwall said the system in her state will cost about $300,000 a year.

“We see this as a minor investment,” she said.

Michelle Kuiper, who was raped when she was a student at the University of Louisville in 1994, said she never learned her sexual-assault kit was tested until 2005, when she was told by the police that her case and two other rapes were linked to the same unknown suspect.

The man, Curtis Boyd, was identified as the serial rapist after he was convicted of a robbery and required to submit a DNA sample to a national offender database in 2011. His sample matched evidence from the three rapes. He’s now serving a 33-year prison sentence for them.

Kuiper said her life would have been much different if she could have tracked the progress of her case on a computer — instead of having to pry the information from detectives.

“I felt so in the dark,” she said.

Illinois is seen as one of the leaders in the United States in rape-kit reform. A law that took effect in 2011 greatly expanded the number of rape-kits that must be submitted for testing by police agencies in Illinois.

As a result, though, there was a backlog of more than 3,500 cases awaiting “forensic-biology” testing at the end of June. Those are the tests for the presence of semen, blood or other genetic material that’s then tested for a DNA profile.

There was a backlog of an additional 1,900 cases awaiting tests for DNA profiles, according to the Illinois State Police. Cases are considered backlogged when they go untested for more than 30 days after they’re submitted to the state police crime lab.

“Generally speaking, high backlogs equate to an increased risk to public safety as criminals remain unidentified and able to commit additional crimes and innocent individuals remain incarcerated as they await forensic results which could clear them,” the state police said in a report on forensic and DNA testing in the fiscal year that ended in June.

Meanwhile, the number of state police scientists assigned to do such testing has fallen from 81 people in 2010 to 62 at the end of June. Four new scientists will complete their training in October and a fourth in early 2017. The state police are authorized to hire an additional six scientists, but they can’t start working until they complete 18 months of training.

The state police are outsourcing some of their testing to a private lab to help cut down the backlogs.