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What's Holding Up Sexual Assault Kit Tracking Technology?

As a majority of states have moved to adopt sexual assault evidence tracking technology, some are fumbling launch deadlines and others have yet to make any significant progress to upgrade antiquated processes.

sexual assault kit tracking
They are small white boxes, but in the world of a sexual assault survivor, forensic evidence kits can be a symbol of hope.

A sexual assault evidence kit, also known as a rape kit, is a collection of biological evidence after a reported sexual assault, and can include swabs and test tubes of bodily fluids, blood and skin transfer from the perpetrator as well as evidence collection envelopes for hairs and fibers.

But many of these symbols of hope have historically sat on law enforcement shelves across the country, untested and collecting dust. State and local government agencies got a wake-up call in 2009 when it was discovered that more than 11,000 sexual assault kits had sat for years on evidence shelves in a Detroit warehouse, never submitted for DNA testing.

A majority of states conducted audits in the following years, funded by federal grants to uncover how many kits were untested in their jurisdictions. Several states uncovered a significant backlog of kits that had never been sent in for testing, even decades after a sexual assault report was filed.

Supported by sexual assault prevention advocacy groups, many government agencies have now turned to technology to keep track of sexual assault evidence kits. The evidence kits are fitted with a barcode that will electronically track the location of the boxes, similar to how postal packages are tracked during delivery. Portals that don't include a survivor’s name or personal information display the location of the test 24/7.

By the summer of 2023, 40 states had either launched tracking portals or created plans to build sexual assault kit tracking technology.
“In addition to the benefits for survivors, tracking also makes law enforcement’s job a lot easier. It’s just a really accurate way to see where a really important piece of evidence is, because often times, at least with legacy agencies, hospitals or labs, they may not know where it is or what the status is,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit created by Law and Order actress Mariska Hargitay to advocate for the transformation of society’s response to sexual assault.

But while some states have exceeded their implementation goals for statewide sexual assault evidence tracking technology, others face hurdles to get the technology up and running and some haven't committed to adopting a tracking system.


States have approached implementing the technology in many different ways. Before the launch of the first statewide tracking system, Wayne County in Michigan partnered with UPS to create a sexual assault kit tracking system in Detroit. In 2023, a variety of vendors and systems are available to keep track of where a sexual assault evidence kit is, and where it will go next.
The tracking systems don’t only inform survivors, law enforcement agencies and prosecutors where the kits are, they also allow states to ensure sexual assault investigation laws are followed.

According to a recent Texas Department of Public Safety report created from the state’s Track-Kit system, from September 2019 to November 2023, 32,463 kits have been recorded in the system, of which 601 have not been submitted for testing, 313 are past due for delivery to the lab and 1,451 have yet to be tested after 90 days, violating the state’s testing requirement that was put in place in 2021.

A U.S. Department of Justice report on the National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits advises that law enforcement agencies and laboratories should partner to use one evidence tracking system, establish a system of accountability to ensure the timely follow-up with CODIS hits as well as have a victim notification protocol for informing victims of the status of their sexual assault cases.

“A survivor's right to know where their kit is shouldn’t depend on their ZIP code, that’s just unfair,” said Knecht. “We want every state to have a tracking system, it’s unfortunate to have this sort of patchwork quilt of access and rights.”


A Government Technology analysis revealed that while 35 states have the technology up and running, 10 have none. The remaining five — Colorado, Louisiana, Maryland, South Carolina and North Dakota — are in the process of implementing tracking. In some cases it’s been a rocky road.

In May 2020, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed a bill into law requiring the State Law Enforcement Division (SLED) to create and operate a statewide sexual assault kit tracking system that allowed survivors and participating entities who have custody of sexual assault kits to track the status and location of the kits. The law specified all entities must participate fully in the system no later than June 1, 2022.

In August of 2023, a system has yet to be implemented, more than a year past the deadline.

A 2021 system implementation report detailed that although the state had formed subcommittees with stakeholders to establish a sexual assault kit tracking system that had already been implemented in other states, funding was an issue, as it was determined the state would need $150,000 to purchase and implement a system and had yet to receive that allocation of funds.

A more recent update from January of 2023 noted that “despite the lack of dedicated recurring funding for this project," the state had procured InVita’s Track-Kit software and is now transitioning to the final development phase. It won’t be until after the success of a rollout pilot program that SLED will fully implement the system. The goal is to do that within the calendar year.

South Carolina isn’t the only state that’s missed its deadline. Alaska received a federal grant of nearly a million dollars to implement a kit tracking program by the end of 2021, but didn't launch it until June 2023. California launched its system in November 2022, four months after a legislative deadline.

Maryland is working to implement a sexual assault kit tracking system before October 2023, but noted in a written statement to Government Technology that they’ve dealt with obstacles in the course of getting a system up and running.

"The pandemic posed significant challenges to the implementation of our sexual assault kit testing and tracking program. Full implementation of the tracking system is critically important — especially when you consider that nearly 20 percent of all women residing in Maryland have experienced rape or survived an attempted rape in their lifetime,” said Arinze Ifekauche, deputy director of legislation and communications in the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention, Youth and Victim Services. “This is just one of many reasons why we look forward to a successful review and approval of an important vendor contract [in the] next week that will allow us to bring our tracking system online."

Florida recently launched its sexual assault kit tracking technology, the InVita Track-Kit system, two months ahead of schedule. The technology was purchased with grant funding.

“Victims of sexual assault deserve transparency and accountability as we pursue justice for the heinous crimes committed against them,” said Florida Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez in a press release.

The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) is a federal grant program that’s awarded funds to 82 grantees in the last eight years. SAKI grant sites represent 58 percent of the U.S. population. South Carolina has not received any SAKI funding, nor has a state agency in California.

Only four states without tracking technology have received SAKI funding for sexual assault kit reform.
The Joyful Heart Foundation believes SAKI is an important piece of the puzzle to effectively launch sexual assault kit tracking technology.

“It’s pretty expensive, but there’s a ton of federal grant money out there," said Mateo Cello, policy implementation associate for the Joyful Heart Foundation. "A lot of states have gotten federal money to carry out these trackers, but it’s just a process of applying for a grant and getting it.”

According to the Joyful Hearts Foundation, states with systems up and running have spent a wide range of money to implement their technology, with many spending anywhere from $100,000 to $350,000 to implement their systems, and $30,000 to $125,000 for yearly maintenance. Texas allocated nearly $1.5 million for the creation and annual costs of its Track-Kit system. Virginia's system developed by Forensic Advantage is estimated to cost about $100,000.


While some states don’t have any plans in place to implement tracking systems, others are in the process of adapting tracking technology.

Maine recently passed LD 1484, “An Act to Improve Sexual Assault Kit Tracking,” which was signed by Gov. Janet Mills on June 23.

The legislation doesn’t require the creation of a tracking system, but asks the Department of Public Safety to submit a report by Feb. 1, 2024, about the status of federal grant applications or money secured by the department for the purpose of funding a sexual assault kit tracking pilot program. After reviewing the report, the Joint Standing Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety can create a bill relating to a kit tracking pilot program.

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Joe Rafferty, who credited his daughter with advocating for better sexual assault response and reform.

“I am incredibly grateful for that conversation, and that Danielle enlightened me on the issue,” wrote Sen. Rafferty in a blog post. “Once I became aware, I knew we had to do something to get Maine up to speed as soon as possible.”

Sexual assault prevention advocacy groups continue to advocate for all states to adopt sexual assault evidence tracking technology to ensure forensic testing is completed in a proper and timely manner so offenders are held accountable for their crimes.

The Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network reports that the vast majority of sexual assault perpetrators will not go to jail or prison; out of 1,000 sexual assaults, only 310 assaults are reported to police, and of those, 50 reports lead to an arrest and 28 result in a felony conviction.

More than a decade after the discovery of more than 11,000 sexual assault kits in Detroit, all of the previously untested kits have been submitted for testing.

According to a Wayne County Sexual Assault Kit Task Force update, as of Aug. 3, 841 suspected serial sexual offenders have been identified, impacting 40 different states. Testing the backlog from Detroit alone has led to 246 convictions, while 209 cases are actively being investigated or awaiting investigation.
Nikki Davidson is a data reporter for Government Technology. She’s covered government and technology news as a video, newspaper, magazine and digital journalist for media outlets across the country. She’s based in Monterey, Calif.