SUBSCRIBE NOW
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.
SUBSCRIBE NOW
$5 for 3 months. Save 83%.

Most York County police departments comply with rape kit law

Katherine Ranzenberger
505-5439/@YDKatherine

At least 20 sexual assault kits have been sitting untested in police evidence rooms across York County for 12 months or more, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

A sexual assault forensic kit has many steps and can take anywhere from six to eight hours to complete, according to Tracy Hunter, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner nurse at WellSpan York Hospital.

Fourteen of the 22 police departments in York County completely complied with new mandates for reporting untested and backlogged sexual assault kits, according to the Pennsylvania Report on Untested Sexual Assault Kits and Backlogged Evidence, which was released in April.

Of the 22 departments, 18 submitted at least some information on the number of untested sexual assault kits in their possession.

In July 2015, the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act was amended to create a timeline for evidence processing to help reduce the number of backlogged and untested sexual assault kits, said Dr. Rachel Levine, Pennsylvania physician general.

"Under Act 27, the Department of Health was to compile the data submitted from the police departments," she said. "We're continuing to do that. We fulfilled our mission to compile the data. This is a process that doesn't end, though."

Untested kits: As of Sept. 7, 2015, at least 1,852 kits across Pennsylvania were untested for 12 months or more, according to the report. Only about a third of the police agencies in the commonwealth complied with the new regulations to report these numbers, Levine said.

"We've gone through a lot of effort to collect the data," she said. "This is a nationwide problem. Pennsylvania is actually progressive in tackling the problem of untested rape kits."

Currently, there are 13 kits in Carroll Township that have been waiting for 12 months or more to be tested, according to the report. Springettsbury Township Police Department has three kits waiting 12 months or more.

Hanover Borough, Northeastern Regional, West Manchester Township and York City police departments have one kit each that has been waiting 12 months or more to be tested, according to the report.

Sexual Assault Awareness Month focuses on education

Compliance: Fairview Township, Stewartstown, Wrightsville and York Area Regional police departments did not report any data to the Department of Health.

Hellam Township, Lower Windsor Township, Southwestern Regional and West Manheim Township police departments did not submit the number of kits that have been waiting to be tested for 12 months or more.

Multiple phone calls and messages to these departments have not been returned.

There currently are not any repercussions for not reporting the data to the department.

“I guess their penalty is not being in the report, so that their municipality knows they didn’t send us a report at that time,” Levine told The Associated Press.

Tom Gross, executive director of the Pennsylvania Chiefs of Police Association, said he suspects “it’s mostly a question of awareness,” but his organization is trying to pin down exactly what occurred.

Gross said it can be a challenge to inform departments and get them to comply with new mandates.

“We still have a lot of trouble getting all the police departments to update and alert the fingerprinting of criminals, which we’ve been trying to do for the last 30 to 40 years,” Gross said.

Tracy Hunter, Sexual Assault Forensic Examiner Nurse

New regulations: After the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act was amended, WellSpan York Hospital sexual assault forensic examiner (SAFE) nurses worked to update their consent forms to help with processing the kits.

According to the act, victims must consent to the testing of the sexual assault kit. Currently, WellSpan includes a consent to send the evidence collected to the police jurisdiction where the crime occurred, said Tracy Hunter, a SAFE nurse at WellSpan.

"With Act 27, that established specific guidelines for the kits and when they get tested," she said. "New kits have a time frame for when they come in and when they get tested. As far as back kits, I believe that's up to the police department."

Once consent is given, SAFE nurses report the evidence collection to the department. Then the department has 72 hours to pick up the evidence from the hospital. From there, according to the act, the department has 15 days to submit the evidence to an FBI approved lab. The lab then has six months to complete the testing of the kit.

Consent for testing: However, not every case of sexual assault is going to result in prosecution, Hunter said. Some survivors choose not to go forward with charges or some sort of disciplinary action.

"There's about 18 different ways it could play out," she said. "It depends on what the survivor is comfortable with and the scenario for how it happened."

It's about the safety and comfort of the survivor, Hunter said. SAFE nurses don't want to add any other pressure to someone who has already gone through something traumatic.

SAFE nurses do, however, try to encourage survivors to go forward with consent.

According to the act, if the victim has not yet consented to the testing of the evidence, the kit will be preserved and stored for a period of no less than two years, unless consent is provided before that period.

— The Associated Press contributed to this report.

— Reach Katherine Ranzenberger at kranzenberger@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @YDKatherine