After year delay, IMPD begins sexual assault reform with inventory of thousands of rape kits

News
This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

INDIANAPOLIS — A year after IMPD and the city of Indianapolis received a $1.4 million grant from the Department of Justice to reform policies around sexual assault kits, work has begun to find and log all kits sitting on shelves.

A CBS4 investigation in 2018 found that the department did not know how many kits it had in its possession, or how many of those kits had never been tested. A top IMPD Commander estimated at the time that the number of kits could be as high as 6,500.

The DOJ grant, awarded as part of the national Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, aims to help IMPD find and test all unsubmitted kits, potentially reopening old cases and encouraging new policies that require testing of all kits where a victim agrees to report the case. Indiana law allows victims to report anonymously, in which case kits are destroyed after a set period of time if the victim does not decide to pursue the case.

After a year-long delay due to COVID-19 and hiring issues, IMPD recently hired Jane French, a retired healthcare researcher, to oversee the grant program.

“There are three goals for the grant: accountability, justice and reform,” French said.

French’s first order of business will be to complete an inventory of all kits in IMPD possession.

“The goal is to count every unsubmitted kit that we have in the system,” French said.

According to an IMPD spokesperson, it is unknown how far back the kits go. The department has blamed multiple computer system implementations over the years for making it difficult to keep track of kits. Previous policies required testing only if a detective deemed it necessary. CBS4 found that between 1999 and 2018, Marion County forensics lab data showed testing for only 26% of kits.

“Leaving rape kits on shelves sends a message to survivors … that possibly their story doesn’t matter, what they experienced doesn’t matter,” said Morgan Rumple-Whiting, Director of Coordinated Response and Systems Change for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Human Trafficking, or ICESAHT.

Rumple-Whiting and other advocates will work with French to reach out to survivors and involve them in decisions to reopen cases, as well as advise on policy changes. ICESAHT has long pushed for policies currently being adopted across the country that require testing of all reported sexual assault kits.

As part of the grant, the city will hire additional forensic staff to test kits and investigators to look into potential prosecution of cases.

“The overarching goal is reform of the whole system, but prosecution of these cases is just right up there under that,” French said.

The work will take at least two years to complete. French hoped to implement systemic change that will last beyond the grant, particularly when it comes to the criminal justice system’s interaction with survivors.

In late 2019, Indiana implemented a sexual assault kit tracking system which requires all future kits to be uploaded into a database, so that a survivor can see where their kit is and whether it has been tested.

“Allowing a survivor to be able to track where their kit is and knowing the pathway to justice, it’s going to be critical for transparency,” Rumple-Whiting said.

“Some victims are waiting and I feel that urgency pressing on me. In fact, I have it written on a white board, ‘They’re waiting,’ get going on this,” French said.

French expected the inventory to take six months to complete, after which testing and investigations will commence. According to the grant application, Marion County receives around 500 sexual assault kits per year.

If you are a victim of sexual assault, you can find resources in your area at the ICESAHT website here.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Most Popular

Where to go for Fall Fun!

When can I trick or treat this year?

Latest News

More News