'Do the right thing by these victims'
Staff Writer | February 9, 2024 1:00 AM
Multiple states across the country are adopting Idaho’s sexual assault kit evidence tracking system, according to Idaho State Police’s annual report on the number of evidence kits processed in 2023.
Nebraska, New Mexico, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma and Puerto Rico all are now using versions of the evidence-tracking software. The statewide collection kit tracking system has been in place in Idaho since 2017.
Matthew Gamette, forensic services laboratory system director for Idaho State Police, said in a phone interview that although Idaho labs pioneered the software, the lab elects to offer the system free of charge to any publicly funded entity wishing to use it, in part to curtail any hesitancy to use the system due to cost.
“Here it is. Do the right thing by these victims and track these kits,” Gamette said.
Through the online database, no personal information for sexual assault survivors is included, only a case number at the time of evidence collection.
Gamette indicated the low number of hits to the DNA database is due to the majority of sexual assault survivors already having a relationship of some kind to the perpetrator.
“Most sexual assaults that happen are not the whodunits, it’s not the guy who jumps out of the bushes or an unknown assailant. Nationwide statistics show us that. A lot of the time, it’s going to be a boyfriend, a husband, a date, so then all we need to do is then we’re able to get a reference sample from that individual. It doesn’t need to go into the system to have a hit. We’ve already identified who the individual is,” Gamette said.
Idaho State Police Forensic Services reports that 640 kits were purchased, 507 sexual assault kits were distributed to law enforcement and other agencies across the state and the biology/DNA database team processed 465 collection kits.
There were 444 kits collected in Idaho in 2023, 41 of those were anonymous.
Of submitted kits, 211 were submitted without required reference samples. There were 38 kits which resulted in DNA database hits.
Locally, Safe Passage executive director Amanda Krier said that some of their clients at the domestic violence prevention center have followed DNA processing of their evidence kits through the Idaho tracking system.
“I wouldn’t say that we have seen the online portal increase reporting to law enforcement, but I do think that it gives survivors reassurance that their kit is being processed and the survivor is a part of the process. The more power and control we can give back to survivors, the better,” Krier said.
The case-tracking information logged is not HIPAA-protected, since names and personal details from collection reports are not included in the database. Gamette said that it is a commentary on the need for transparency within the evidence collection program rather than an expectation that many members of the public will regularly use the system.
Currently, only individuals with felony convictions are entered in Idaho’s DNA database.
Some states like California, being larger with more individuals with felony convictions, choose to input individuals with both felonies and misdemeanors.
According to Idaho's state police forensic services laboratory system, there currently is a pool of approximately 75,000 people in Idaho’s DNA database. Idaho is the last state to only enter those with felony convictions into the system.
Gamette said consideration to include convictions in instances of peeping Toms or similar behaviors is something that is being broached. The possibility to include convictions that end up being pleaded down to misdemeanors that also overlapped as related cases may come up in future legislation.
Boise Rep. Melissa Wintrow called Gamette and his team “amazing leaders in our state” and said they have worked hard to ensure the number of kits not tested in 90 days has declined.
“This legislation got started because kits were sitting on shelves and there was a lack of accountability. People who are victimized this way deserve that information and to know they’re taken seriously. I’ve seen a nice shift in the culture there, but we need to continue to grow because this is one of those really tough crimes, and I really appreciate people taking it seriously,” Wintrow said.
The number of nurses statewide trained in trauma-informed evidence collection in sexual assault cases has risen every year. This reduces the time and distance survivors are required to travel to submit evidence after an assault.
Last year, 10 courses to train sexual assault nurse examiners resulted in 59 nurses being trained across the state. This brings the program total to 196 nurses trained.
In the report, Idaho State Police Forensic Services announced that the sexual assault training program for nurses is expected to exceed the goal to train 250 examiners, commonly known as SANE nurses, in Idaho in 2024.
Ensuring this education for nurses continues at hospitals in Idaho is crucial when it comes to treating victims with dignity and respect and remains a major goal for Wintrow.
“I’m so proud. When we first started this, the goal was to train 250 nurses and I think we’re getting close,” Wintrow said.
Wintrow is hoping to stabilize more state funding for DNA scientists and move away from grant-funded positions when it comes to the forensic laboratory.
“Crime labs are a great place to invest in because you’re able to either exonerate or prove somebody was accountable, "Wintrow said. "We don’t want to rely on federal money, it’s unpredictable, it’s unstable. We need to make sure those are state-funded and not cobbled together with federal funds."
Evidence tracking for sexual assault cases is available at https://isp.idaho.gov/SexualAssaultKitTracking/. No personal information for victims is included in the system, but typing a number between 1 and 6,000 will call up the processing timeline for the evidence and which agencies collected the evidence samples.
By the numbers:
Kits tested by ISPFS Laboratory: 465
Kits collected by ISPFS Laboratory: 444
26 kits presented to Coeur d’Alene Police
9 kits presented to Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office
2 kits presented Shoshone County Sheriff’s Office
3 anonymous kits were presented to Coeur d’Alene Police
1 anonymous with Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office
Kits completed without reference samples:
8 kits were completed without reference samples through Coeur d’Alene Police
2 kits were completed without reference samples through Kootenai County Sheriff’s Office
1 kit was completed without reference samples through Osburn Police
Read the full report at https://isp.idaho.gov/forensics/wp-content/uploads/sites/10/2023-ID-State-Leg-Report-Final.pdf.