New system in Virginia allows victims to track sexual assault kits

Virginia News

RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia has launched a new website to track every location of physical evidence recovery kits, also called PERK or rape kits, to ensure survivors of sexual assault know what’s happening to their cases. 

For years, Virginia has dealt with a serious backlog of PERK kits that went untested.

“Some of them went back a few years to even decades,” Attorney General Mark Herring said. “When I came into office I learned there were some three thousand untested PERK kits in Virginia, which was unacceptable.”

Once evidence was collected in a hospital or care facility, often times it was difficult for survivors to find out where the kit was located as well as if it had been tested by the state labs.

Advocates from the Virginia Victims Assistance Network say unless a prosecutor decided to go through with their case, “survivors might not know the status of their PERK kits.”

The backlog grew until lawmakers in 2016 ordered all of the kits to be tested going forward. 

“The majority of those have been delivered to the labs for testing and that process is ongoing,” Herring said.

DO YOU OR A LOVED ONE NEED HELP? CALL THE NATIONAL SEXUAL ASSAULT TELEPHONE HOTLINE AT 800-656-4673

The state now has a website to track the location of every PERK kit. It technically went live in June, with five groups currently participating: VCU Heath, the Department of Forensic Science (DFS), Richmond Police Department, Henrico County Police and VCU Police. 

The system will be mandatory for agencies to use across the state next July. Each separate organization can log what stage in the process the kit is for testing, so there is clearer communication and information available about each case.

“We hope that this system will make it so that no inventory such as that will ever have to be done again,” Linda Jackson, the Director of the Dept. of Forensic Science, said. 

Survivors of sexual assault will be give an ID number to see where their kit is. No personal information that could identify the survivor is logged in the website, so their identity is protected.  

If a survivor at the time of the examination does not want to report the offense to law enforcement, their PERK kit would be submitted anonymously. They can check for updates on testing and would be given resources in case they did want to report the incident to police. 

The website also tracks a timeline for when the kit would be destroyed by the state labs. Survivors could sent a written objection to the deconstruction, and the state would store the kit for another 10 years.

A PERK can also be submitted and reported to law enforcement, which would be tracked by the new website as well.

DFS officials say about 300 kits have been submitted since the website launched. 

With this new tracking system in place, state officials and advocates hope survivors feel like they can come forward and trust the Commonwealth will investigate these crimes. Advocates say this also helps give survivors a voice.

“To ensure that there is a rigorous infrastructure in place going forward so that everyone, especially victims can get access to information,” Cristi Lawton, of the Virginia Victims Assistance Network, said. 

The system cost about $100,000, which is covered by a grant secured by Attorney General Mark Herring and DFS. A few other states have similar programs.

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