(The Center Square) – Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson has announced that the office’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative has finally cleared more than 10,000 kits and sent to labs for testing.
“Effectively ending our sexual assault kit backlog is a historic step toward justice, but our work on behalf of survivors is not done,” Ferguson said.
According to the AGO, the kits have helped solve 21 sexual assault cases, with the possibility of more cases solved as more kits are tested.
“Today’s announcement is a powerful announcement of government leaders coming together to solve a major challenge and deliver justice for survivors,” Ferguson said at a Thursday afternoon press conference.
The AGO received $3 million from the U.S. Department of Justice in 2017 after applying for the Sexual Assault Initiative Grant, which led to the creation of the SAKI Team within the office. A year later, the team completed its inventory of untested kits.
In total, testing has resulted in 2,100 “hits” within the national DNA database, which means a DNA sample matched that of someone’s in the database.
“It was not a small task,” Ferguson said. “But by working together, we’ve been able to honor the courage of the survivors who submitted to what is most assuredly, a very invasive process. Of course, we need to make sure that we stay on top of this, that we’re vigilant.”
The state Legislature in 2015 enacted a law sponsored by Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, requiring law enforcement to have all sexual assault kits submitted for testing within a month, and that they be tested by the labs within 45 days of receiving them.
“Each of those kits was a survivor whose voice was never heard, that never had a pathway to justice,” Orwall said at the press conference. “We’re here to close that chapter. What I would say to the survivors is ‘We’re so sorry, the system failed you, but we’ve also created a system to make sure that never happens again in Washington state.’”
Speaking on the collaboration between different state agencies, Washington State Patrol Public Information Officer Chris Loftis said at the press conference that “one of the messages that we want to deliver is that when we come together, whether it’s from the left side of the political spectrum or the right, whether it’s whatever group it is, when we come together, and we work together, we can accomplish great things. When government focuses on a problem, when government focuses on the people that serves, it can get things done.”
The AGO’s Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Best Practices Advisory Group offers recommendation on best practices for handling sexual assault investigations. Its most recent meeting was on Tuesday, and its last report to the Legislature came out in December 2022.