The task force, organized by Gov. Mary Fallin, had its first meeting Thursday to get an early glimpse at why kits have gone untested and to discuss how reported sexual assaults should be approached in the future.
The meeting was the Oklahoma Task Force on Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence’s first since Fallin’s deadline passed for law enforcement to complete their audits.
As of Thursday, the audit had found 7,120 untested kits in 280 law enforcement agencies, according to data provided by the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office.
Eleven sheriff’s offices and 128 law enforcement agencies still have not responded to the audit.
In April 2017 Fallin signed an executive order creating a 17-member task force to determine the number of untested sexual assault forensic evidence kits, often called rape kits, in more than 350 law enforcement agencies across the state.
After the majority of law enforcement agencies missed Fallin’s original Dec. 30 deadline to complete the audit, she pushed it back to Feb. 15.
Though the task force has not yet finished compiling data on why kits weren’t tested, information available so far offers a snapshot into common reasons. The data is incomplete, as reasons for many kits have not yet been compiled and several had multiple reasons for why they weren’t tested.
Out of 6,953 reported reasons for untested kits, agencies recorded 1,665 instances of kits going untested because of a “lack of victim cooperation.” Agencies reported 1,030 instances of the district attorney declining to file charges in the case, according to the data. Agencies marked “other” in more than 1,300 instances.
The task force is working to determine how many of those kits should have been tested and whether law enforcement needs additional training on deciding what kits need to be tested.
Though Fallin’s order did not mandate the testing of kits, part of the task force’s duties is to find funding for testing, identify improvements on law enforcement training and analyzing rape kits.
The average cost to test a kit is $1,000 to $1,500.
The task force is supposed to present its findings and recommendations to the governor, president pro tempore of the Senate and the speaker of the House by July 1.
Law enforcement’s response to sexual assault cases in the future
Oklahoma has no cohesive statewide approach to investigate sexual assaults. How a law enforcement agency in a larger city approaches a reported assault could be different from how a smaller rural agency would.
Danielle Tudor, a task force member and rape survivor, pointed to the data that shows kits often go untested because of a reported lack of victim cooperation. She said law enforcement needs additional training on how to interact with victims of sexual violence.
It is not unusual for victims to refuse to file a police report after a medical exam, fearing they will be ostracized.
Andrea Swiech, Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation director of forensic science services, said law enforcement’s lack of training on how to communicate with victims isn’t special to Oklahoma.
“Oklahoma, we have not just dropped the ball — everyone in the nation has,” she said.
Task force members agreed there is a need for a uniform statewide standard on how to investigate reported sexual assaults. They voted to form a subcommittee to establish a best practice model.
The subcommittee will propose the protocol to the task force for approval.
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