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Utah clears backlog in rape kit testing, following through with 2017 law

Photo of a rape kit. (Deseret News) Sexual assault evidence collection kit are shown during committee meeting at the Utah Capitol in Salt Lake City on Feb. 8. Utah crime lab officials are feeling optimistic as they work to speed up the time it takes to process sexual assault evidence kits, after lawmakers approved a measure last month that sends more than $1 million to go toward this effort.

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — Utah officially cleared its yearslong backlog of untested rape kits, following through with a mandated testing law passed in 2017. As a result, Utah combed through over 3,000 kits that were previously left untested — including some years-old tests. 

The announcement on Thursday comes three years after state lawmakers passed a bill in 2017 requiring all sexual assault kits to be tested for DNA and other physical evidence. Rep. Angela Romero (D-Salt Lake City), who sponsored House Bill 200, called the milestone a “victory for survivors of sexual assault.”

“This isn’t a Democrat or a Republican issue,” Romero said. “This is a human rights issue that we had to take care of, and we had to bring a voice to survivors of sexual assault.”

A massive push to clear the rape kit backlog began in 2015, after a statewide survey found more than 2,600 untested kits. 

Since the law passed, 11,193 kits have been analyzed, 5,025 new DNA profiles have been uploaded into a national DNA database and 1,979 suspects have been identified, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety.

Now, survivors can get results back within 90 days rather than waiting months — sometimes years — for an answer. 

The law also provided for police training on understanding how traumatic events affect victims and how to respond to their concerns. It also created an electronic system for victims to track progress on their tests. 

As a result, Steve O’Camb, a state sexual assault kit investigator, says prosecutors have charged at least 33 suspects with 18 cases awaiting trial.