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Task force approves guidelines for collecting, testing sexual assault DNA evidence

Swabs and evidence tags that are part of a rape kit sit on a table in one of the YWCA's exam rooms in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. [Anya Magnuson/The Oklahoman archives]
Swabs and evidence tags that are part of a rape kit sit on a table in one of the YWCA's exam rooms in Oklahoma City, Wednesday, June 20, 2018. [Anya Magnuson/The Oklahoman archives]

A task force that has been working to improve Oklahoma’s response to sexual assaults voted Tuesday to approve guidelines and procedures for collecting and testing DNA evidence that’s obtained in connection with a sexual assault.

Legislation that was signed into law earlier this year directed the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and accredited crime labs, in coordination with the task force, to adopt and disseminate guidelines and procedures by Jan. 1.

The guidelines will be distributed to sexual assault nurse examiners, medical providers, law enforcement, forensic laboratories and others who use or have custody of sexual assault evidence collection kits.

Those kits, also known as rape kits, are used to preserve evidence after an assault. The evidence is collected during a medical exam, often performed by a specially trained nurse, during which the victim also can receive medical care and referrals for resources.

An audit of more than 300 Oklahoma law enforcement agencies conducted in 2017 and 2018 revealed more than 7,200 untested rape kits statewide.

This year, the Legislature passed several reforms aimed at improving the state’s response to sexual assault cases. The new laws stemmed from recommendations of the task force, known as the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Task Force. 

Law enforcement agencies are now required to submit all rape kits to a lab for testing within 20 days if the assault is reported to them, unless the victim asks that the kit not be tested. 

Law enforcement agencies also are now required to keep all kits for at least 50 years or the statute of limitations, whichever is longer.

In the past, there was no mandate in Oklahoma to test all rape kits and there was no requirement for how long kits be kept. The decision of whether to test a kit often was left up to the detective or investigator handling the case. 

The guidelines and procedures approved Tuesday outline the new legislative requirements and other best practices.

Darla Slipke

Darla Slipke is an enterprise reporter for The Oklahoman. She is a native of Bristol, Conn., and a graduate of the University of Kansas. Slipke worked for newspapers in Kansas, Connecticut, North Carolina and Oklahoma, including a previous... Read more ›

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