Portland police ship 2,800 untested rape kits to Utah for DNA testing
Portland police shipped nearly 2,800 sexual assault kits to Salt Lake City, Utah for DNA testing on Friday.
"You're excited but you're also very nervous because you don't know which kit's gonna come back with a hit or not. We're not sure what we're gonna find," Brenda Tracy, a rape survivor, said.
A $2 million grant from the Manhattan District Attorney's Office awarded in September 2015 will cover some of the cost. The Multnomah County District Attorney's Office also received a $2 million grant. The untested kits are from across Multnomah County, as well as Marion and Lane counties.
"It was a great injustice that those kits were sitting around for so many years, and it's a great win that we are testing them now. But at the same time it's still emotional and hard for everyone involved," Tracy said.
Tracy was the driving force behind getting "Melissa's Law" passed by the Oregon State Legislature last session. The new law requires Oregon to eliminate its rape kit backlog by 2018, and requires all future rape kits are tested no matter what. The law honors 14-year-old Melissa Bittler, who was raped and killed in 2001. Her case helped uncover the backlog of rape kits in Portland.
"The number of victims that are courageous enough to step through the doors at the hospital to get a rape kit done are few, and the least we can do is process that evidence," Tracy explained.
Tracy is a rape survivor, and has dedicated her life to helping other survivors. She was gang raped by four Oregon State University Football players in 1998, but decided then to not participate in a case against them. She discovered her rape kit was destroyed when she decided she wanted them prosecuted before the statute of limitations ran out on the case.
"I just don't want my story to happen to anyone else," Tracy said.
The Manhattan District Attorney's Office awarded approximately $38 million toward the testing of rape kits nationwide. It's expected that the funding will help test more than 57,000 kits across the U.S.
The Portland Police Bureau also received more than $1 million from the Bureau of Justice Assistance for the investigation, victim support and prosecution of any cases arising from the testing.
Multiple shipments to Salt Lake City are expected to occur over the next few months. Police said processing the kits will start with DNA testing at a private laboratory, followed by the dissemination and processing of results, victim notification and further investigation, where warranted, and -- ultimately -- prosecution when appropriate.
Additionally, the Oregon Department of Justice Crime Victims' Compensation Program has said it will provide awards for counseling services to victims involved in the delayed testing of their sexual assault kit.
"Everyone deals with their trauma differently, so I think we have to be very purposeful, and intentional, and compassionate," Tracy said.