Pennsylvania police agencies had a backlog of just more than 1,850 untested rape kits at the end of last year, according to the first statewide study under a 2015 law that revamped procedures for handling sexual assault evidence and aimed to qualify the state for federal funding.
"This report is an important step forward in Pennsylvania's efforts to bring more transparency and awareness to serious issues like sexual assault," said Health Department spokesman Wes Culp, whose agency published the data. He said the report will help "ensure that those kits are tested in a timely manner."
The numbers are much smaller than have been reported recently in some other parts of the country, amid fresh efforts to cut the backlog and prosecute offenders.
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The study's largest backlog, by far, was in Philadelphia, where the police department's forensic services office had nearly 1,300 kits that needed to be tested. A city police spokeswoman did not offer an immediate comment.
"I think one is a lot," said Rep. Brandon Neuman, D-Washington, who sponsored legislation that required the study. "Eighteen hundred represents 1,800 victims, so this is a big deal. I'm glad we were able to identify the issue and now can move forward to make sure we are addressing the issue."
The Pennsylvania study involved kits in police hands that have not received the necessary DNA and forensic analysis, in criminal cases that have not been resolved.
The 2015 amendments to the Sexual Assault Testing and Evidence Collection Act require police to pick up the kits within three days of notification by a hospital or other health care facility and then get them to a lab within 15 days. Testing must be done within six months, followed by notice to the victim or surviving family.
"There's really not been any way to know how many kits have been collected and if each one of those kits have been sent on," said Kristen Houser with the Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape.
The reasons for the backlog, she said, "are probably numerous, we don't have insight into that."
Many states have been working to identify their backlog and test the kits in recent years. Florida announced in January its backlog was 13,000 kits. New Mexico put its backlog at about 5,000 in November.
Federal officials announced in September that $79 million in funding was being distributed to help cut a national backlog estimated at 70,000 rape kits in 27 states. Those grants included $254,000 for the medical examiner's office in Allegheny County and $420,000 for Philadelphia.