MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – Rape kits are tools used to solve some of the most disturbing crimes in Minnesota, but thousands go untested, sometimes for years.

Now, there’s an effort to test those kits and figure out what can be uncovered through the process.

WEB EXTRA: Untested Rape Kit Report (2015)

Inside the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office, behind the locked doors of the property room, there are 495 rape kits that have gone untested.

Some have been there for a few years, others for more than a decade.

But each kit represents a victim, a survivor of sexual assault.

“Anoka, in a way, is sort of ground zero for the grant,” said Caroline Palmer, the public and legal affairs coordinator for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA).

She has pushed to make sure thousands of unsubmitted rape kits across the state get tested.

MNCASA, along with other invested agencies, applied for a federal grant to help the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension (BCA) to hire additional people to handle the backlog.

(credit: CBS)

“You may be able to find out if there’s a match in the databases with regard to the DNA,” Palmer said. “Sometimes you may find out there’s somebody in there that’s connected to another sexual assault and so that helps to potentially solve a crime.”

Sarah Super, a survivor of sexual assault, says she recognizes the importance of having all the rape kits tested.

“For me, having my rape kit tested meant a form of validation that this happened to me,” she said.

“It will hold more perpetrators accountable,” Super added. “I think so many victims want their kits tested and simply haven’t, which is why this is such an injustice, because it’s betraying what the victim needs from this experience.”

The kits from thousands of sexual assault survivors never made it to the BCA for testing for a variety of reasons.

In some cases, the victim decided not to report the sexual assault. In others, the accused perpetrator confessed or claimed the act was consensual, so investigators say DNA would not have helped the case.

However, law enforcement’s view of what information can be garnered from the kit has since changed.

“Further reviewing the possibility that these profiles could be helpful either in the future or to an old cold case now it makes sense with emerging technology and the ability to do it,” said Cmdr. Paul Sommer of the Anoka County Sheriff’s Office.

The BCA lab will test the kits starting with Anoka County if the grant is approved. Thousands of other untested kits around the state will follow.

Authorities expect the entire process to take up to three years and cost nearly $3 million.

On Monday, Duluth police announced all of their untested kits have been submitted to the BCA for testing. It is the only department to get their own grant to fund testing.

As a result, nine suspects have been charged with criminal sexual conduct related offenses. Two have pleaded guilty.

On May 19, Gov. Mark Dayton signed a bill that establishes a timeline and handling procedures for sexual assault kits in the future.

It also requires victim notification. It passed unanimously in the House and Senate.

Jennifer Mayerle

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