TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A strict new timetable has been implemented after a survey found more than 9,400 rape kits that should have been tested still in police evidence lockers. Lawmakers committed money to keep the backlog from returning.
Victim advocates don’t believe the number of rapes is increasing. They believe more victims feel comfortable coming forward. Nationally, estimates range from as few as a quarter to no more than a third of sexual assaults being reported.
Few police agencies in the state reported not having a rape kit backlog in their evidence lockers. In the state budget, which begins Friday, more than $2.3 million will be used to begin testing that backlog.
"We anticipate that is going to take about three years to get all those kits done," said Gretl Plessinger, of the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement.
Police must now submit kits within 30 days of collection or authorization by an alleged victim. FDLE will then have 120 days to complete the tests.
"Lawmakers fully funded all of our forensic needs, so we are confident we’ll be able to meet this mandate," Plessinger said.
Advocates said if the same DNA shows up more than once in the testing, it will prove to police that something may not have been a she-said, he-said situation.
Jennifer Dritt, of the Florida Coalition Against Sexual Violence, calls the testing requirements the most progressive in the nation.
"Survivors will feel validated," Dritt said. "Law enforcement will see connections between sexual assaults they had never seen before as a result of the testing. It’s going to be great."
House Sponsor Janet Adkins expects the testing to produce solid leads in cold cases.
"It’s more than just the crime that has taken place," she said. "It’s the delay in receiving justice that adds injury."
The move to end the backlog comes as police are seeing a 2 to 3 percent increase in the number of sexual assaults reported.