Special Report: Long Wait Part Two
Meet the People in Charge of Clearing Duluth's Backlog of Untested Rape Kits
Duluth received a title in 2015 that painted the city in a dark light, out of all of Minnesota, Duluth has the highest number of sexual assault kits sitting on evidence shelves that were never sent in for DNA.
A report sent into the BCA by the Duluth Police Department found there were 578 untested kits in 2015, some up to 23 years old.
Since then, Duluth received a federal million dollar grant to fix the problem under a three-year deadline, one that’s likely impossible to meet.
Mary Faulkner works with the non-profit sexual assault survivor advocacy group PAVSA.
Her office is ground-zero for rape kits that haven’t been moved in decades at the Duluth Police Department.
“There was broken trust by not having these kits reported in a timely manner, now we’re trying to rebuild that trust.,” said Faulkner.
She’s one of three people hired on as part of federal grant to clear Duluth’s backlog. It’s a daunting task, she has 523 cases to look through and determine which get sent for testing first.
“It’s hard for survivors to come forward at all, to know that survivors came forward and their case didn’t move forward, that’s the difficult part for me,” said Faulkner.
The BCA crime lab will only accept ten kits at a time, due to limited resources in a effort not to get behind on current investigations. The results of those kits could take anywhere from 45 days to 120 days to get back, in the last year they’ve only been able to send in 63 kits in for testing, that leaves about 400 old cases sitting the same place they have for years.
Duluth Police Chief Mike Tusken says he’s hopeful the FBI will take on an extra 30 kits for testing, and hopes the BCA will consider changing lab practices so they can quickly move through more kits.
“In Detroit they test kits for male DNA, if there wasn’t male DNA the less the likely it would get evidence and lead to a conviction, the kit would be no longer relevant,” said Chief Tusken.
Until then, Faulkner uses a system to select each batch of ten, cases involving suspects that are strangers to the survivor, if the suspect denied contact with the survivor, if the victim was under the age of consent, if the suspect could have been a serial offender or if the survivor was Native American; the case gets priority.
“In the past, those are the groups that weren’t given as much attention,” said Faulkner.
So far no new cases have been prosecuted, but a special cold case investigator paid for by the grant says, they are close. However, their work is on a deadline, the grant that pays for the positions, is only three years.
“Three years isn’t enough to complete the program,” said Faulkner. “We hope to keep making the case that we’re doing good work and get the funding to do it.”
In Duluth PAVSA is helping survivors of sexual assault reconnect with law enforcement in Duluth to determine the status and possible new details about their case.
Call the confidential Betty Skye line to connect with a PAVSA advocate or email them.