NEW HAVEN – A 17-year-old girl who reported a sexual assault in July was told by New Haven Police detectives who met with her in August that her rape kit evidence would be tested in two to three months.
Connecticut law requires police officers to submit such evidence to the state Forensic Science Laboratory in Meriden within 10 days of collection. Then, testing must occur within 60 days. Upon learning of this particular case, The Winsted Citizen compared Connecticut’s performance with other states and found that since reforms enacted in 2015, Connecticut has a better record than many others.
Nationally, hundreds of thousands of rape kits go untested.
Studies by the Journal of Criminal Justice and the National Institute of Justice showed a wide range of failures to process evidence, ranging up to 400,000 over five years starting in 2014. The advocacy group Joyful Heart Foundation – which is still gathering data nationally – documented about 90,000 untested kits last year in 37 states and Washington, D.C.
Connecticut had a backlog of nearly 1,200 cases in 2015. The state characterizes testing beyond 60 days of submission as backlogged. Lab director Dr. Guy Vallaro said Connecticut has not had a backlog since 2018.
Vallaro told The Winsted Citizen average processing time in Connecticut now is 37 days. He said survivors can access a website to track the processing of their evidence. There also is a Spanish version of the website. The Connecticut Alliance To End Sexual Violence has the “Track Your Kit” button at its website endsexualviolencect.org.
The state law led to a strict process, Vallaro said, resulting in DNA screening for male suspects within days of receiving a rape kit. If the evidence is significant, it is submitted to a national database with a profile.
“It’s really criminal to have these kits sitting on shelves, it’s horrible,” said Donna Palomba, a survivor who founded the group Jane Doe No More in Naugatuck. “I do think having it processed within a month to two months is reasonable.”
Jane Doe No More offers free self-defense programs for women and girls. There also is a closed Facebook group for survivors of sexual crimes to get support. Palomba, whose case was the subject of a New York Times Magazine article in 2018, said the two-month standard is understandable given the workload of police and lab staff. Anything beyond that is a serious problem, she said.
“We need to be cognizant of the fact that every day that goes by there’s more of a chance of that perpetrator hurting someone else,” said Palomba, who was sexually assaulted in her own home, suffered a “second attack” by police who accused her of lying and began an 11- year fight for justice that finally resulted in her attacker being arrested.
Nationally, explanations or excuses for the delays vary. Limited lab and police resources have been cited, along with bias, wide discretion for performing tests and expired statutes of limitations. Shortening the delays remains important for the ability to provide significant evidence that can either support convictions or aid in redressing wrongful arrests and convictions.
New Haven Police Capt. Rose Dell said her department typically brings rape kits to the lab once a week.
“Some may be expedited, if needed to be brought up sooner,” Dell said.
Dell also was asked for the precise date the rape kit for the 17-year-old assaulted in July was brought to the lab. Dell was given the case number for this reported assault. As of press time, Dell had not provided the date.
“Connecticut has improved, but that doesn’t mean every police officer knows how it works,” said former Gov. Dannel Malloy, who oversaw the reforms. “Sooner is better. You have to have the right information to do the job.”
A recent Congressional Research Service Report cites data from other states. Here are a few samples:
- The Wisconsin Division of Forensic Sciences found the average turnaround time for DNA analysis in 2019 was 97 days. A year later it was 94.
- Maryland in 2020 reported a turnaround time of 124 days.
- The average turnaround time for DNA analysis in Delaware in 2019 was about 34 days. The next year it was 27 days.
- In Montana, the average turn around time for DNA testing 2019 was about 225 days. A year later it was about 275 days.
This story was originally published in The Winsted Citizen