Hundreds of sexual assault kits sit untested in a Davenport Police Department evidence room, and police say there’s nothing investigators can do with them unless the victims come forward.
As of Tuesday, Davenport police had 671 kits in evidence. Of the kits Davenport police collected last year, 17 percent were sent to the state crime lab. In 2011, 18 percent were sent.
“There are rape kits there that nothing can be done with,” Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez said. “If we don’t know the victim, the suspect or the location of the incident, how can we conduct an investigation?”
Hospitals collect samples from victims within days of a reported sexual assault. The victim can decline having a kit done and is not required to give his or her name if a kit is done.
The crime lab enters DNA samples from the kits into a national database with hopes of matching the samples to a suspect.
Police say they don’t have a case if a victim doesn’t press charges.
“Sexual assault is one of the most under-reported crimes in the Quad-Cities,” Bettendorf Police Capt. Keith Kimball said.
Of the six kits the Bettendorf Police Department collected in 2012, two went to the crime lab.
Kimball said the number of kits collected doesn’t accurately measure the number of sexual assaults that occur in the Quad-Cities. He said kits are done only within days of a reported sexual assault. In many cases, it could be weeks or months before a victim chooses to come forward, and rape kits aren’t collected in those instances.
Police departments are required by law to keep sexual assault kits in evidence for 10 years. If the victim is a minor, the department keeps the kit until the victim turns 18 plus 10 years after that.
Some of the kits at the Davenport Police Department have been there since the 1990s, said Diane Hudson, property and evidence storage specialist.
Donchez insisted investigators have gone through all of the kits multiple times to determine if there is anything to base an investigation on.
There are multiple reasons a victim may choose not to be identified or press charges, said Nicole Cisne Durbin, violence intervention counseling services director for Family Resources Inc. of Davenport.
“Society as a whole is victim-blaming,” Durbin said.
Victims may be intimidated by a lengthy court process, and if they do go to trial, the experience of reliving the assault is traumatizing, Durbin said.
Also, the abuser is known to the victim in a lot of cases and may pressure the victim not to press charges, Durbin said.
“It’s a highly unreported crime,” she said, adding that nationally, for every case reported to police, eight to 10 are not.
Durbin said police shouldn’t wait for a victim to press charges before sending the kit to the crime lab.
“It takes a long time to get processed,” she said. “If a victim does eventually come forward and police need that DNA evidence, they may be waiting awhile.”
In Iowa, the kits are provided by the state Division of Criminal Investigation, which also processes the kits at its crime lab in Ankeny.
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The state has a backlog of two to three months, Paul Bush, DNA section supervisor at the crime lab, said. Otherwise, a typical sexual assault kit would be turned around in four to six weeks.
The lab tests DNA from saliva, blood and semen as well as from sweat and skin. The sample then is uploaded to the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, to find a match to a suspect whose DNA sample already is registered in the national database. In Iowa, anyone convicted of a felony or a sex crime must submit a DNA specimen to that database.
The law enforcement agency that sent the kit can use a match in CODIS as evidence to prosecute a suspect.
Bush said the only requirement to processing a sexual assault kit is that it be part of a criminal investigation. His lab has seen kits where the victim had chosen to remain anonymous. It’s then up to the local law enforcement agency if it wants to send it on, he said.
“The victim’s name is not a requirement,” Bush said. “We can take an anonymous kit if there’s another unique identifier, like a case number.”
The only reasons the lab would turn kits away are if the evidence was improperly collected or labeled, he said.
In 2012, Iowa uploaded 410 DNA samples to CODIS. Of 51 hits, 12 were related to sexual offenses, Bush said.
A sexual assault response team including victim advocates and local police officers meets once a month in the Quad-Cities. Kimball and Durbin are members of the team.
“We’re trying to make sure victims’ needs are being met and to do what’s best for the victim,” Durbin said.