Sexual assault kits can go unsubmitted in Kansas. A bill seeks to change that

Titus Wu
Topeka Capital-Journal
In 2017, Kansas was one of the first states in the nation to complete an inventory of unsubmitted rape kits.

Untested sexual assault kits, also known as rape kits, have been a problem in many states. Kansas is no exception.

In 2017, the state was one of the first in the nation to complete an inventory of unsubmitted kits, identifying reasons for nearly 2,220 unsubmitted sexual assault kits. What the study found was "a lack of training, resources, policy and societal awareness as the four core factors" for the accumulation of untested kits. 

Kansas House Bill 2228, which had its hearing Monday, would help fix those issues.

All law enforcement agencies would need to have a policy regarding submission of rape kits to a forensics laboratory. In addition, kits would need to be submitted within 30 business days from the day of collection, and submitted kits would have to be tested.

The bill would also change policy on handling unreported sexual assault kits, which is when a victim decides to not report to law enforcement. The Kansas Bureau of Investigation is pushing for requiring them be kept for 20 years, instead of five years as it is now, to align with national recommendations and allow for more time for victims to decide pursuing a case or not.

"There are a wide range of reasons people do not report sexual assault and rape to authorities at the time of assault, and oftentimes, even hide them from friends and family," said Kathy Ray of the Kansas Coalition Against Sexual and Domestic Violence. "Self-blame and self-doubt are not uncommon for victims of these crimes."

That extended time frame could cost an additional $28,000 for more shelf space, per the bill's fiscal note.   

Furthermore, to increase accessibility, child advocacy centers would be allowed to collect sexual assault evidence under H.B. 2228.

"There are, unfortunately, areas in Kansas where sexual assault victims have to travel some distance to find a facility where trained personnel are located and services for victims are available," said Robert Jacobs, executive officer with KBI.

No members of the public testified in opposition to the bill, but Rep. John Carmichael, D-Wichita, expressed shock that such a bill was needed in the first place.

"Why in the world did Kansas law enforcement allow 2,000 or more rape kits to go untested for years, while rapists roam the street?" he said.  

He asked why there wasn't an enforcement mechanism in the bill to hold officers accountable for not submitting kits. A representative from the Kansas Attorney General's Office said that in discussions with stakeholders, people agreed to implement policies first to get everyone on the same page.

Training for officers on rape kits are still continuing, many noted.

Rep. Brad Ralph, R-Dodge City, pushed back against Carmichael. 

"The previous comments disparaging law enforcement suggesting that our public servants are sitting around on their butts ... those particular comments don't represent the majority of persons on this particular call," he said.

In the end, all agreed that this issue needs more focus and improvement, whether lawmakers came from a women's right or public safety perspective.

"Sex offenders have a clear impact on public safety," Ray said. "When (victims) are later told their case will not proceed because of lack of evidence, and then find out the sexual assault kit was never even submitted to a lab for testing, the discouragement of victims reporting these crimes to law enforcement continues."