Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Grant Will Help County Address Backlog of Rape Cases

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Grant Will Help County Address Backlog of Rape Cases

Article excerpt

Allegheny County is one of 32 places in the country that will receive a share of a $38 million grant aimed at eliminating the backlog of untested sexual assault kits.

The $254,000 to be administered locally is being provided as part of a grant program announced Thursday by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr.

The program will provide $38 million to jurisdictions in 20 states - including both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia - and should allow for testing of an estimated 56,475 rape kits nationwide.

The Allegheny County crime lab now has about 160 sex assault kits that need to be tested, said medical examiner Karl Williams. He estimated that the lab receives about 100 new ones each year.

But Dr. Williams discovered there are hundreds more rape kits around the county that have not been tested. After hearing about the $38 million grant, Dr. Williams conducted an informal survey of county law enforcement agencies and area hospitals, and estimates that there may be as many as 400 untested kits in those facilities. He could not say why they would not have previously been submitted to the crime lab for testing.

"We don't do that triage. That's up to the police department to do that," Dr. Williams said. "A lot of kits collected don't make it to the lab."

But under recently enacted laws - both in Pennsylvania and nationally - police departments will be on a stricter time line to submit sex assault kits for testing - within 15 days of receiving a victim's consent to proceed. Crime labs, then, will be required to run the tests more quickly - within six months of receiving them.

For sex assault kits that already existed before Tuesday - the start date of the new Pennsylvania law - labs will have up to three years to test them from the time when they are received.

Barbara Sheaffer, the medical advocacy coordinator for the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape, said that the new laws provide consistency for victims, police agencies and crime labs.

"Part of the key is to make sure law enforcement knows what has to happen," she said.

There are fewer than 20 police departments in Allegheny County - including the city of Pittsburgh - that perform their own sex assault investigations. …

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