FRANKFORT, Ky. — The federal government has given Kentucky nearly $3 million to search for forgotten rape kits among the state’s hundreds of law enforcement agencies and test them in an effort to close out its backlog of sexual assault cold cases.
Kentucky had already identified and tested more than 3,000 previously untested rape kits, resulting in multiple investigations and at least one indictment. But many of the state’s untested rape kits were not included in the initial estimate. That’s because in those instances, local law enforcement agencies dropped the investigation for some reason. With no pending investigation, the state crime lab sent the rape kits back to the agency that collected it.
Now, state officials are asking for those rape kits back. On Wednesday, Democratic Attorney General Andy Beshear announced the federal grant to help test those kits and hire people to investigate and prosecute cases that result from it.
“I’m deeply grateful to the Department of Justice and to Attorney General Jeff Sessions for this grant,” Beshear said. “I pledge that every … kit, every single one will be tested. And where there are hits, where there is evidence, we will seek justice on behalf of every single survivor. It is no less than they deserve. And we won’t stop until every survivor secures some form of justice.”
Rape kits contain physical evidence collected from victims in the hours after a sexual assault. It’s an invasive process that can add to a survivor’s trauma, but the DNA collected can help law enforcement identify and prosecute the rapist.
In Kentucky and across the country, many of those rape kits were never tested. Two years ago, former State Auditor Adam Edelen found Kentucky had more than 3,000 untested rape kits. Since then, the state legislature passed a law telling law enforcement agencies how they should handle each rape kit. And they have tested nearly all of the kits, with investigators now meticulously reviewing each case.
But Laura Sudkamp, lab director for the Kentucky State Police, said there are thousands of untested rape kits still out there that were never counted in the original estimate. Officials call these “boomerang cases,” because the kit went from one agency to the state crime lab and then back to the agency without ever being tested.
“A lot of those cases were declined because the scenario was not something that was going to work well in court. It would be a tough case,” Sudkamp said. “So what happens now if we work that case and it links up to six other cases that were also declined? Six cases with one suspect, that’s a much stronger case.”
Kentucky was one of 20 national grant recipients. Seven of those grants were statewide, including Wisconsin, Alaska, Montana, Washington, Utah and Connecticut. Other recipients include cities such as Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Memphis, Tennessee, and Duluth, Minnesota.
Sexual assault survivor Michelle Kuiper praised the grant award. Kuiper was raped as a college student at the University of Louisville in 1994, but her attacker was not caught until 2011 with the help of DNA evidence. Kuiper now advocates for victims of sexual assault.
“I like to think that my state of Kentucky is now doing something that we’re in the forefront. We’re not the last. We’re not the last to implement, not the last to pass a law. We are now creating change,” Kuiper said. “Justice looks different for every survivor. But justice should be the default and not the rarity.”