Ohio’s process for making full and effective use of the physical evidence provided by rape victims is nearing an important milestone. But the process is taking too long and needs to be implemented quickly.
Under legislation passed last year, the state government must set up a system that will enable victims to check on the status of their rape kits, which contain physical and DNA evidence from rape cases. Sexual assault evidence kits will be given scannable barcodes or tracking numbers, which will be provided to victims.
Ohio has selected the statewide tracking system that will allow victims to anonymously check the status of their evidence from the time it is collected, to when it is tested, and as the kits are later stored or destroyed, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported. The system was built from scratch by the state of Idaho, which then provided it at no cost to other states.
The Ohio law, passed in December, 2018, gave a one-year window from the time the tracking system is created for entities that are part of the “chain of custody” for rape kits to start utilizing it.
Attorney General Dave Yost’s office says the next step in bringing the checkable database online includes working with medical, lab, law enforcement, and victim-advocacy partners to develop guidelines a state rules committee will have to approve. Yost’s office has hired a contractor to make sure the Idaho software system is integrated and accessible for all the different agencies that will need to share information.
That process will be done around March, according to the AG’s office. Yost should continue to ensure that the pace of establishing the machinery for this important resource is moving ahead with all the urgency it demands.
The status of rape kits in Ohio is politically potent. As a former Republican U.S. senator, Mike DeWine in 2010 made the issue central to his successful campaign against incumbent Democrat Richard Cordray for state attorney general. DeWine promised to accelerate the testing of those rape kits and committed to having the state take over the cost of testing that scientific evidence.
As the unsuccessful Democratic nominee for governor in 2018, Cordray tried to turn the tables on Mr. DeWine for taking nearly his full two terms as attorney general to ensure that nearly 14,000 backlogged rape kits got tested.
Ohio has come a long way from the years when rape kits were left stacked up and forgotten in police evidence closets, and rapists were able to commit repeat offenses. But it has a ways to go. This system needs to be put into place as soon as possible.