Effort underway to speed up rape kit processing in Santa Clara County

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- In Santa Clara County, there's a new proposal being considered to speed up the processing of rape kits, and some say, it could be an opportunity to lead by example.

"By processing these kits, it helps us to inform the patient," says Kim Walker, Valley Medical Center sexual assault response team nurse coordinator. "It certainly sends a message that what happened to them matters, (and) what they hear is that they matter."

Thousands of rape kits go un-tested every year across the country. But locally, a recent push to prioritize has brought the backlog down to just 200 cases in the queue in Santa Clara County. Supervisor Cindy Chavez is now working with the District Attorney's office to clear it away.

"If you are a victim of a violent crime in our community, we're going to be responsive, we're going to be trauma informed, and we're going to get as much support to you as possible," said Chavez.

Local law enforcement officers say it could also help solve other crimes.

"Especially when we have a suspect or individual who committed this heinous crime and we don't have much information on them, and DNA collection is extremely important to be able to identity that person," says Santa Clara Chief of Police Mike Sellers.

Right now, it takes the county crime lab roughly three months to process a kit. But moving forward, Supervisor Chavez's proposal calls for testing to be done within 30 days, which is well below the state benchmark of 120.

Chavez said: "Testing these kits, doing it in a timely fashion, is the most obvious way to demonstrate respect for these survivors."

At a cost of $400,000 per year, the plan includes adding three new analysts, as well as a new administrator to the lab, who would be solely responsible for analyzing cases related to sexual assault.

"That means systems change, that means ensuring that survivors have access to the support that they need for healing and for justice, and today, we're committing taking another step forward," says Tanis Crosby, YWCA Silicon Valley chief executive officer.

The proposal goes before the county board on May 8th.

"When a victim has the courage to come forward and go through a sexual assault test at the Valley Medical Center here they'll be treated with respect and dignity," said Jay Boyarsky, Chief Asst. District Attorney for Santa Clara County.

For domestic violence resources, call the YWCA Silicon Valley 24/7 support line at (800) 572-2782.
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