In the first 6 months of the Massachusetts Rape Kit Tracking System, the state saw the time it took to deliver the kit to the criminal lab

Read the MassLive coverage of untested rape kits in Massachusetts.

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In first six months of using a tracking system to monitor movement of sexual assault evidence kits from hospitals to crime labs, Massachusetts officials report reduced turnaround time for kit pickup from medical providers and criminal lab deliveries for testing.

A total of 366 Sexual Assault Evidence Kits were entered into the Massachusetts Confidential Tracking System in FY2020, although staff limitations brought about by the Covid pandemic limited the movement of kits in some cases, according to a report released Tuesday by the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security.

Track-Kit, a confidential online system that allows victims of rape and sexual assault to follow their evidence package as it progresses through the testing process, launched last year in Massachusetts. The 366 kits that entered the system in fiscal year 2020 included 56 kits administered to minors and 310 administered to adults, according to the report.

Sexual assault evidence kits, also known as rape kits, are collected from hospitals. Medical professionals use cotton swabs and other materials to collect DNA evidence from the body of a survivor. From the hospital, evidence must be sent to a criminal research lab for testing. DNA profiles can then be entered into state and federal databases.

In Massachusetts, medical facilities must notify law enforcement when evidence of sexual assault is gathered and no more than 24 hours later. Then the police are required to collect the kit within 3 working days. From there, the kits go to a crime lab within 7 days, with the exception of kits from a survivor who has not filed a report with law enforcement. These kits should be stored to preserve the evidence.

Criminal labs are required to test all kits for evidence of sexual assault within 30 days of their receipt by local law enforcement.

Institutions are required to make an annual report to EOPSS by September 1 with information from the previous fiscal year, including the number of kits collected, if the kits have been reported to law enforcement and any reason why a kit was in the possession of an establishment or a department for more than 30 days.

The coronavirus pandemic caused some delay in the movement of kits during fiscal year 2020, according to the EOPSS report. However, in the first six months of using the new tracking system, there was a reduction in turnaround time for pickups from medical providers and deliveries to the crime lab, the report says.

Since July, the average time to pick up a kit from a medical provider has been 0.4 days and the average time for delivery to the laboratory is four and a half days.

Of the 366 kits, 14 were related to incidents outside of Massachusetts. Of the 352 kits linked to assaults in Massachusetts, 252 have been reported to law enforcement and the remaining 100 have not. Further examination of these kits determined that eight kits were not eligible for testing because the assault was not reported to law enforcement or because the assault occurred outside of Massachusetts. , according to the EOPSS report.

Of the total 366 kits that entered the system, nine remained in a law enforcement agency for more than 30 days, according to EOPSS, due to staff limitations related to COVID, because more information were needed to determine the appropriate lab, or because the kit went from not reported to reported.

Most kits in Massachusetts go to the Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab. At the lab, a kit could be tested within 30 days but remain there because a law enforcement agency did not come to collect the kit, according to the report. De, a kit could be returned to law enforcement while lab tests are ongoing and exceed 30 days.

The laboratory received 223 kits collected between January 6 and June 30, 2020. Of these kits, 85 were in its possession for more than 30 days due to personnel restrictions during the pandemic, as more information was needed which has delayed the start of testing, because the evidence remained in custody during processing or because the kit was ready for collection and awaiting the corresponding law enforcement agency.

Sixty-eight of these 85 kits belonged to the latter category. State law does not require a delay for local law enforcement to collect the kit from the lab.

Some kits have not been tested within 30 days. Of the total 223 kits received by the laboratory, 59 kits were not tested within this timeframe due to staff limitations related to the pandemic and the shipping schedule for offsite treatment; the turnaround time was reduced because the amount of evidence was limited and would be consumed by the tests, requiring additional information from external agencies; or because additional information was required from external agencies to perform the testing, as per the report.

The Boston Police Department has its own criminal lab and commissioned the system in early March. He received 26 kits until June 30. Of those kits, 13 remained in the lab for more than 30 days due to understaffing, the report says. The lab has secured four DNA positions to help comply with the mandate and is in the process of filling those positions.

Since Boston is testing its own kits, there is no delay associated with collecting the kits or receiving survey information.

DNA collected from rape kits can be entered into state and federal databases. If the DNA collected matches a profile already in a database, it can help law enforcement identify possible suspects or serial rapists.

The Massachusetts State Police Crime Lab from its completed sexual assault kits was able to develop 65 DNA profiles, 31 of which met specific criteria established by the FBI for submission to the CODIS database. These profiles have been uploaded.

Other kits did not have associated DNA profiles for various reasons, according to the report. Some crimes were not reported to the police. In other cases, there was nothing in the kit to be tested, the quality of the DNA was not sufficient for analysis, the tests were chargeable due to a limited amount of evidence or the tests were still in progress.

The Boston Police Department Crime Lab was able to develop eight DNA profiles, four of which were uploaded to CODIS.

No kits were thrown away in fiscal 2020, according to the report.

In 2019, a state inventory found at least 387 untested rape kits in 13 of Massachusetts’ 14 counties. In other states across the country that have passed rape kit reform, audits have uncovered thousands of untested kits. The lawyers found the surprising and disturbing low number of untested Massachusetts kits.

The 387 kits discovered were not part of a full audit. The EOPSS did not include the city of Boston or the towns and villages of Bristol County in its tally of untested rape kits. Prior to the state inventory, a preliminary inventory in Bristol County funded by a federal grant indicated that there were 2,124 untested rape kits in the county.

Massachusetts in past 2018 six pillars of rape kit reform, an effort recommended by leaders in the field and supported by the Joyful Heart Foundation. A law adopted in 2016 which requires keeping rape kits for 15 years, in accordance with the sexual assault statute of limitations.

There are several reasons why a rape kit may not be tested. Sometimes victims who report a sexual assault to law enforcement decide they no longer want to continue the investigation and prosecution. In other cases, a victim may be viewed as uncooperative by the police. However, rape kits have been lost or destroyed in some cases.

It happened to Michelle Bowdler, a woman from Massachusetts who was raped in 1984 in her Boston apartment. Decades later, Bowdler discovered his rape kit had remained intact at the Boston Police Department until it is lost or destroyed.

For 24/7 help, you can call RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Hotline (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) at 800-656-HOPE or Go online. For more information on Rape Support Centers in Massachusetts, see here.

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