Editorial: Testing rape kits shows progress

Over the years, a better understanding of the particular horrors suffered by victims of sexual assault have led to improvements in how law enforcement handles such cases.

Until recently, however, one problem has resisted reform, in Hawaii and nationwide: a backlog of unprocessed sexual assault kits — aka rape kits — that contain DNA evidence collected though an invasive head-to-toe examination of an already traumatized victim.

In Hawaii, some 1,500 kits languished in storage for years because the evidence contained in them may not have been needed for a particular case. But with the development of databases that can match DNA with other sexual assault cases nationwide, those kits may still contain valuable information.

So it is heartening to learn that Hawaii’s four county police departments are reducing the 1,500-kit backlog by getting the kits tested, with the data uploaded into a national database known as CODIS. The results — DNA matches for more than 120 potential suspects in the database — are encouraging, if not dramatic. They demonstrate how testing the rape kits could make a difference in prosecuting those who commit these heinous crimes, or exonerating the falsely accused.

Of course, results may vary. In some mainland jurisdictions, the conviction rate is meager. Success depends on following up with investigations, which cost time and money.

Still, the results locally demonstrate the value in testing the kits promptly. The victims deserve no less.

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