By Heidi Groover
Nearly 6,500 sexual-assault evidence kits -- some of them decades old -- are currently sitting untested in law-enforcement storage facilities across Washington, according to a new inventory by the state Attorney General's Office.
The office announced the total number of kits Wednesday after receiving inventories from 208 law-enforcement agencies across the state. The 6,460 kits have not yet been submitted to the state crime lab for testing. The attorney general is now awaiting federal grant money to allow the crime lab to test the kits.
"Each sexual assault kit tells a story from a survivor that must be heard," Attorney General Bob Ferguson said in a statement.
Sexual-assault kits are collected by medical staff after an assault and can include DNA evidence that could help identify the assailant. In Washington, law-enforcement agencies must send the kits to the State Patrol Crime Lab to be tested.
In recent years, the backlog of kits at law-enforcement agencies and labs across the country has drawn attention amid a national conversation about sexual assault.
The Washington state Legislature has dedicated new funding toward testing the backlog. Since 2015, 3,300 kits have been submitted to the crime lab using new state funding and 1,700 of those have been tested, according to the Attorney General's Office.
Those kits are in addition to the 6,460 identified by the Attorney General's Office on Wednesday.
The value in testing the kits was demonstrated as recently as Monday, when the King County Prosecuting Attorney's Office charged a 53-year-old man, Darin Lamont Bolar, they say attacked a 14-year-old girl walking down the street in Beacon Hill more than a decade ago. The man allegedly pushed her to the ground and raped her before ordering her into his truck, driving her to his house and beating and raping her multiple times over the next two days, according to court documents.
The girl's sexual-assault kit, taken at Harborview Medical Center in 2007, was not tested until December, according to the documents. Officials say they found DNA evidence that linked Bolar to the attack. In the meantime, prosecutors say he continued to commit "violent and sexually aggressive crimes" while the kit languished on a shelf.
Led by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, Washington has also passed a law requiring police to send all new sexual-assault kits to the state lab for testing. Previously, law-enforcement officers decided on a case-by-case basis whether kits should be tested, sometimes based on whether they thought the case could be prosecuted.
Last year, the state Attorney General's Office won a $3 million federal grant to test untested sexual-assault kits. Ferguson's office has so far received a quarter of the grant, about $750,000, to inventory the untested kits.
The Attorney General's Office will now use the rest of the grant funding to get the kits tested, the office said Wednesday. The office plans to work with the State Patrol to create a plan for testing the kits, though it's unclear how long that may take. Staffing shortages and high caseloads have contributed to past delays at the crime lab.
Testing the kits, the Attorney General's Office said in a statement, could help "identify serial rapists, link cases across the country, [and] provide critical links that could solve homicide cases and provide answers to victims and their families."
Staff reporter Sara Jean Green contributed to this report.
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