Task force recommends reforms to improve state’s response to sexual assault

Recommendations include addressing shortage of sexual assault trauma nurses

The Sexual Assault Forensic Examination Advisory Group convened by Attorney General Bob Ferguson’s office released a report Wednesday, Dec. 1 recommending reforms that will improve the state’s response to sexual assault.

The recommendations, according to an Attorney General’s Office news release, include:

• Addressing the shortage of sexual assault trauma nurses to ensure sufficient and appropriate care for survivors

• Increasing victim-centered, trauma-informed training for prosecutors to improve interactions with survivors of sexual assault who are asked to testify

• Establishing consistent statewide process for collecting DNA from offenders who will not serve a term of confinement. Earlier this year the Attorney General’s Office identified hundreds of registered sex offenders from whom a DNA sample was never collected.

Additionally, the report highlights the progress made by Ferguson’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and legislative appropriations aimed at clearing the state’s rape kit backlog. The report details several examples of cold cases solved as a result of testing the kits that, until the initiative, languished in the evidence rooms in local law enforcement agencies.

A bipartisan group of legislators serve on the advisory group, including Rep. Tina Orwall, D-Des Moines, Rep. Gina Mosbrucker, R-Goldendale, Sen. Manka Dhingra, D-Redmond and Sen. Ann Rivers, R-La Center.

“We must come together to continue improving our state’s response to sexual assault, and fight for justice for all survivors,” Ferguson said. “I will do everything I can to ensure sexual assault survivors get the justice they deserve.”

“We’ve made verifiable progress in addressing this issue: tackling the backlog, setting up a tracking system and investing in a state lab,” said Orwall, who in the 2021 session sponsored the Survivors Bill of Rights legislation based on the advisory group’s prior recommendations. “I am proud of these critical steps to provide a pathway for justice, but I also want to acknowledge that there is more work ahead to ensure that we, as a state, are providing sexual assault survivors with the answers and the support they need and deserve.”

More than 5,000 backlogged sexual assault kits have been tested, Washington State Patrol Crime Lab estimates that all backlogged kits will be tested before 2023.

As a result of the Legislature’s appropriations, and additional funding provided through the Attorney General’s initiative, all untested kits have been inventoried and submitted by local law enforcement to the State Patrol crime lab for testing.

Moreover, 5,129 of an estimated 9,232 backlogged sexual assault kits have undergone testing and CODIS (Combined DNA Index System) review. The 5,129 tested kits contained 2,099 DNA samples that the crime lab uploaded into the CODIS law enforcement database. Consequently, these newly tested DNA kits yielded 794 “hits,” meaning the DNA profile from the kits matched a DNA profile in the database. Most DNA profiles in the CODIS database are the result of convictions and arrests.

The State Patrol Crime Lab estimates all backlogged kits should be tested by Dec. 31, 2022.