New law tasks Louisiana State Police to create statewide rape kit tracking portal
NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - Changes are coming to the way rape kits are processed and maintained in Louisiana.
A new law taking effect Tuesday (Aug. 1) will make it easier to hold law enforcement agencies accountable for evidence that could bring justice to sexual assault survivors.
From collection to conviction, the Louisiana State Police are required to create and maintain a statewide database of rape kits, which contain DNA evidence collected after reported sexual assaults.
Laura Rodrigue fought on behalf of survivors during her time as a prosecutor for the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office. She says preserving the evidence in a rape kit can be crucial to securing a conviction.
“It’s really a system that’s designed to empower the victims here,” Rodrigue said. “That evidence is overwhelming. It’s almost what we would call a locknut case at that point.”
The LSP will now be responsible for tracking data associated with the kits, such as how many kits are in the system, how many have completed forensic testing, and how long kits have been waiting to be tested to see whether a match can be found with DNA already catalogued from arrestees.
The LSP also will be asked to flag kits waiting six months or longer for processing.
“This new law is really going to put people’s feet to the fire,” Rodrigue said. “We know that, of course once again, Orleans Parish sticks out like a sore thumb in the statistics here. We have the overwhelming majority of untested rape kits.”
According to data from the state’s Commission on Law Enforcement, Louisiana had 830 untested rape kits waiting at agencies and state forensics labs last year.
In July alone, city crime data shows 24 alleged sexual assaults were reported to the NOPD.
For prosecutors, it can be a race against the clock from the moment the sensitive DNA evidence is collected.
Mary Glass, who heads the grant-funded Sexual Assault Kit Initiative unit at the Orleans Parish District Attorney’s office, said in a statement to Fox 8, “Our office, along with LSP and NOPD, fights every day for justice for these brutal crimes. Keeping track of these kits will assure that every case receives the fullest and most aggressive investigation and prosecution possible.”
Trashanda Grayes works directly with survivors of sexual assault, advocating for them with the New Orleans Family Justice Center.
“The longer the kit sits on the shelf, that allows more time for the kit to be damaged or the evidence to be damaged,” Grayes said. “It’s very complex to have a whole rape kit testing done. So, if a survivor, after they have been through the traumatic event that they’ve been through, if they follow through with getting an entire rape kit done, then we definitely feel that the processing of the rape kit should be done.”
As more kits are processed, more cases can be solved.
“It empowers them to stick with this case. We have this DNA. We are moving forward. And this case will be brought to justice,” Rodrigue said. “It empowers other women to come forward as well, giving them a sense of control over their own case.”
While the law goes into effect Aug. 1, there is a grace period written in that gives LSP until July 1, 2024, to fully phase-in the new system. After that, LSP will be required to submit a comprehensive data report to state leaders by Jan. 1 each year.
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