Courtesy Maryland Attorney General’s Office

Maryland needs uniform policies for police agencies that set a timeframe for rape kit testing and storage of untested kits, as well as notification about results for survivors, according to a new report from Attorney General Brian Frosh’s office.

The Attorney General’s Office released its “Statewide Accounting of Untested Sexual Assault Evidence Kits” report today. It offers Frosh’s recommendations for reforming Maryland’s rape-kit testing laws following audits of law enforcement agencies across Maryland. The General Assembly passed a law last year requiring agencies to annually submit results of these audits of untested rape kit records and the Attorney General’s Office to submit a report with recommendations to lawmakers based on the findings.

By now, many people are familiar with the national rape kit backlog, which was specifically addressed in a 2014 report from the White House Council on Women and Girls and the Office of the Vice President. Many states have issues with too many kits awaiting review. However, according to the audits used for Frosh’s report, Maryland has at least 3,700 kits that have gone untested due not to being stuck in limbo, but rather because authorities chose not to submit them for testing.

Frosh’s report said 102 police agencies responded to the audit request. Around three-fifths of the 3,700 or so untested kits were collected between 2009 and 2016. Thirty-five of the 102 agencies reported having no untested kits; three agencies, meanwhile, were responsible for more than 500 untested kits, according to the report.

Since agencies can set their own protocols for how long to hold onto rape kits – for example, 10 or 20 years for some and only 12 months for others – the ones with longer timeframes would inevitably have more untested kits, according to the report. That was the case with the Montgomery County Police Department, which has 1,082 untested kits but also holds onto all of them indefinitely, according to Frosh’s office. As a frame of reference, Baltimore County police hold onto anonymous kits for three months, while Howard County and Baltimore police keep them for 18 months.

Frosh said Maryland needs to set policies that make rape-kit testing rules uniform for all agencies. Among his recommendations are to: Set a required timeframe for testing of all rape kits; require agencies to hold onto any untested kits for either the statute of limitations or 20 years (whichever is shorter); require investigators to notify victims when they submit their kits for testing and when they get the results back; and set standards for how all jurisdictions and crime labs specifically handle, store, test and discard kits.

Lisae C. Jordan, executive director and counsel for the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault, said the report has “some excellent suggestions, and they really underscore the need for whole-scale reform of Maryland’s sexual assault laws and response.”

Beyond his broader recommendations, Frosh also highlighted the issue of lack of access to rape kit testing for many sexual assault survivors.  The Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault has submitted testimony to lawmakers before about improving access to rape kits for survivors. “If you are raped, in order to have these kits, you have to go to a hospital; however, not all hospitals perform the kits, so you have to go to the correct hospital,” Jordan explained. “Furthermore, not all nurses are qualified to perform the tests.”

In a footnote on page 12 of his report, Frosh said the State should review reports from the Department of Mental Health and Hygiene and the Board of Nursing about improving access to testing for victims and availability of training for forensic nurse examiners to become certified to perform rape kit exams. “We urge the legislature to closely review the content of these reports and consider taking any other action appropriate to improve statewide access to SAFE exams,” he wrote.

Frosh said in a statement that if Maryland follows his recommendations, “we can enhance our ability to bring sexual assailants to justice, and we can treat victims of sexual assault fairer and more humanely.”

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Ethan McLeod

Ethan McLeod is a freelance reporter in Baltimore. He previously worked as an editor for the Baltimore Business Journal and Baltimore Fishbowl. His work has appeared in Bloomberg CityLab, Next City and...