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Joyful Heart Foundation: Tracking System in Iowa Brings Transparency, Accountability

The following article was published on End the Backlog. Posted here with permission from Joyful Heart Foundation. 

The author of this post is Attorney General Tom Miller of Iowa. In 2016 the state carried out a comprehensive inventory of sexual assault kits. In this post, AG Miller walks us through the inventory process and talks about the implementation of a rape kit tracking system in Iowa.

As Attorney General, it is my obligation to keep residents of Iowa safe. A backlog of rape kits not only deprives survivors of their path to justice, it also leaves violent predators on the streets to menace our communities. For me, addressing this issue in Iowa has become a top priority.

As the national conversation around untested kits emerged several years ago, my office and other leaders wondered how large the problem was in Iowa.  In 2016, we took on a statewide initiative to identify how many untested sexual assault evidence kits existed in Iowa. The Crime Victim Assistance Division (CVAD) surveyed all law enforcement agencies in the state. It took several months and a great deal of time and communication to receive the survey responses from all of Iowa’s law enforcement agencies. To assist with our efforts at getting a complete inventory, the Iowa General Assembly passed a law requiring responses to the survey. I was pleased to get a 100% response rate from law enforcement departments in Iowa. When the survey was complete, all 385 active law enforcement agencies replied, and we found more than 4,200 untested kits. This discovery was unacceptable, and as Attorney General, one of my top priorities over the past several years has been to work closely with local law enforcement to ensure that these kits are considered for testing.

As of November 2020, we have sent 1,629 kits to labs, and 1,535 have been tested. About 347 DNA profiles have been entered into CODIS, the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System. Of those, 249 resulted in hits, or matches to DNA profiles of offenders in the database. This work has been conducted under Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grants my office received from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance in 2015 and 2016.

I am proud of our law enforcement officials and forensic scientists for their dedication to righting this past wrong. But we must not stop there. We must never stop in the fight against sexual assault. We must make certain that this never happens again. This is why I launched the Iowa Track-Kit system.

In November 2019, after a competitive bidding process, the STACS DNA’s system “Track-Kit” was chosen to guide our reform of rape kit processing. We knew that rolling out the system would be complex under normal circumstances, as it would connect an estimated 1,500 users at medical facilities, law enforcement agencies, crime laboratories, and county attorney’s offices. Then the pandemic hit and created major obstacles in training users and implementing the system. However, we were able to complete rollout to about 77 percent of the state, including the largest hospitals and law enforcement agencies, by mid-October 2020.

Using this new technology, sexual assault nurse examiners can use a cell phone’s camera to scan each kit’s unique tracking information into the system after the first encounter with a sexual assault survivor. When a law enforcement agency picks up the kit, they log into Track-Kit to update its status. The same thing happens when the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) Crime Laboratory receives a kit for testing. Survivors are provided with tracking information specific to their own kit, enabling them to track the progress of their kit through the collection and analysis process. Each time the status or location changes, a notification is created in the system. Survivors who have signed up for notifications receive a text or email making them aware they can log in to Track-Kit for more information about the status of their kit. The system also connects more survivors to services and resources, by providing survivors contact information for victim service programs in their community through the survivor portal. Information on Track-Kit technical support is available for survivors and users through the portals they log into.

Just as online consumers track packages from the warehouse to their doorstep, my office has now empowered Iowa victims with the same access to information regarding their sexual assault evidence kits. Today, I am proud to say that in every corner of this state, Iowa sexual assault survivors can track the status of their kit: from collection at the hospital, to pick up by law enforcement, to delivery to the crime lab and through to completion of the analysis.

Iowa’s tracking system helps ensure transparency and accountability in the handling of sexual assault kits. It re-establishes trust in the criminal justice system, and tells survivors that their case matters. That THEY matter. And it puts those who would prey upon our citizens on notice: Iowa will use available technology to hold them accountable for the heinous crimes they commit.

About Joyful Heart Foundation

Joyful Heart is a leading national organization with a mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever.

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