29/06/2017 5:06 AM AEST

Almost 850 Untested Rape Kits Found Growing Mold In Texas Police Storage

Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images
A sexual assault evidence collection kit from the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation Laboratory. 

An audit of an Austin, Texas police storage facility recently found that hundreds of untested sexual assault kits have developed mold on the outside of them. 

The Austin American-Statesman reports that of the 1,629 sexual assault kits stored in the facility, 849 were partially covered in mold. Most of the untested kits with mold were from the 1990s. 

The Austin lab had closed last year in order to test thousands of rape kits that had been backlogged for decades. The Austin Police Department received extra funding this past year in order to address the thousands of untested kits. 

The Assistant Police Chief, Troy Gay, said the department does not believe the mold will interfere with successfully obtaining DNA samples. Signature Science, the audit company that was hired to test the rape kits, successfully obtained a DNA profile from the first kit that had mold on it. 

“There were no observable issues with any of the samples they processed with the case reported to have mold,” Gay wrote in a press statement, with interim Police Chief Brian Manley adding: “We have no information at this time that this mold has impacted any of these kits.”

While the 849 kits may all successfully be able to identify DNA samples, the news points to a larger issue of the lack of care and attention paid to rape kits once they’ve been completed. All too often, once a rape kit has been completed it’s sent to a crime lab where it can wait anywhere from days to decades to be tested for DNA samples that could lead to a prosecution and possibly conviction. 

End The Backlog, a non-profit organization that aims to address the large amount of untested rape kits around the country, estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police departments and storage facilities around the country. 

Although it doesn’t look great for Austin that 849 rape kits developed mold in their storage facility, Texas is helping to lead the state-level charge on correcting the rape kit system and ending the backlog. 

In February, State Rep. Victoria Neave proposed a bill that would use public crowdfunding to help fund rape kit testing and address the backlog. The law is the first of its kind and would solicit small donations from people each year when they’re renewing their drivers’ licenses. 

Texas also recently became the second state in the U.S. to enact a law that requires police departments to audit forensic labs, test backlogged and new sexual assault kits, and provide funding for kit reform. According to End The Backlog, Texas submitted 19,051 untested rape kits to the state lab for testing as of January 2017. 

If it weren’t for the newly enacted law requiring Texas to audit and track all rape kits, the police department wouldn’t have even known where the kits were in order to discover they were growing mold. 

Manley said the department is working quickly to fix the problem and ensure this issue doesn’t happen again in the future: “We’ve been doing everything we need to do since we’ve been made aware.”

Head over to the Austin American-Statesman to read more.

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