By editorial board • 

Victims enduring rape exams deserve swift, certain testing

Last December, Juliette Simmons filed a report with the Clackamas County Sheriff’s Office alleging she had been drugged and raped by an acquaintance in during a Mount Hood ski trip. She said she had been bitten and strangled in the process, and bruising on her body supported the allegations.

Simmons identified the suspect, who was interviewed by a detective. She also submitted to a grueling, multi-hour forensic exam, producing a sex kit for testing at the Oregon State Police Crime Lab.

The first anniversary is almost upon her now, and her case still stands at ground zero.

In his sole police interview, the suspect claimed he was too high to recall whether they had sex, but felt certain he wouldn’t have assaulted her. Meaningful followup remains on hold pending rape kit testing.

So Simmons opted to be interviewed and photographed for a front-page, on-the-record story in The Oregonian. She’s banking on that candid story to illustate her situation.

Wait a minute.

Didn’t the 2016 Legislature take action to eliminate a backlog of almost 5,000 kits and mandate universal testing going forward? Didn’t it allocate $1.5 million to fund the hiring of nine more evidence technicians at the state lab, pushing the count to 44?

Yes, it did.

But with government, there always seems to be some kind of catch. And there was a big one in this instance.

Officials say it takes two years to train a new hire sufficiently to meet the normal production standard of seven kits a month or 84 kits annually. And existing technicians have to set their own work aside to train.

While the manpower boost eventually will pay off, it’s actually making things worse in the interim. The only positive news is a $4 million grant funding analysis, at a private lab in Utah, of 2,600 backlogged kits from Multnomah, Marion and Lane counties.

In the meantime, justice delayed is justice denied. It’s not only being denied to victims like Juliette Simmons, but also to women whom predators may target next, as long as they remain free to offend at will.

The Oregon initiative stemmed from the case of 14-year-old Melissa Bittler, who was abducted, raped and murdered while on her way to school in Northeast Portland. It turned out the rapist had struck at least twice before, resulting in untested rape kits relegated to a Portland Police Bureau evidence locker.
The OSP Crime Lab is overseen by Capt. Alex Gardner. When confronted by The Oregonian about the year-long delay endured by Simmons, whose kit still remains 20 from the front of the line, he conceded, “In nobody’s mind is that OK.”

Maybe this problem is going to take care of itself, with the number of new techs now in training.

But continued attention, monitoring, oversight and, yes, even pressure, can’t help but ensure a better result. And we owe it to victims like Simmons, victims who displayed the courage to come forward in terribly trying circumstances, to see that we get one.

Comments

Lulu

All you have to do is examine the recent number of heads rolling from actors, politicians, program hosts, sports figures, Hollywood, and more to recognize women's status remains second class across the board. Why would massive delays in the analysis of rape kits surprise anyone?

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