Making this audit count for something

The wheels of justice turn slowly. Sometimes that is absolutely necessary to ensure that the rights of the accused are respected and protected.

But when investigative processes or an understaffed state crime lab is causing the slowdown, justice delayed sometimes becomes justice denied for weary victims dealing with the trauma of rape and other sexual offenses.

Kentucky State Police officials estimate as many as 2,000 to 5,000 untested sexual-assault kits sit on shelves in police stations and prosecutors’ offices across Kentucky. The kits contain biological evidence collected from assault victims during investigations and might contain DNA from assailants who can be identified by comparisons with the national DNA database.

Many have pointed to delays in receiving results from the state crime lab as a problem. But the issues go much deeper.

Edelen has said his office will focus on how kits are logged, tracked and stored, how decisions to test kits are made, whether victims are notified of the status of the process and whether law enforcement have sufficient policies, procedures and training to handle kits and deal with victims.

That’s a tall order.

Compelled by Senate Joint Resolution 20 to count the untested sexual-assault evidence kits in the possession of law enforcement, Edelen is going further. He also is conducting a series of 14 meetings to collect input on the process.

As he did recently in Elizabethtown, Edelen is asking law-enforcement officers, prosecutors, survivors, victims’ advocates and other stakeholders about problems and seeking input on possible reforms to the system.

Some politically minded people may see Edelen’s publicized series of meetings as an addition to the Senate request and say it is designed to keep his name in the spotlight and to win political points by advocating on behalf of assault victims.

Edelen, who is said to aspire to the governor’s office one day, is a Democrat seeking a second term as auditor. He is opposed in the general election by Republican Mike Harmon of Danville, a member of the state House of Representatives.

But the Elizabethtown meeting had no hint of politics. In fact, it indicates the great value available by having a state official investing time with people doing the work.

Nikki Ellis, executive director of Silverleaf Sexual Trauma Recovery Services, deals with traumatized women who become frustrated by delays and become victims of the system.

“The longer (the process) takes, you’re going to lose victims,” she said.

Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Teresa Logsdon said she consistently must request continuances of court cases because analysis of critical DNA evidence has not been processed by the state crime lab.

“I have to say, ‘Sorry, judge. I have a problem,’” she said.

With that type of insight, the auditor and his staff can put the issue in perspective while developing recommendations for the General Assembly’s consideration about reforming how evidence in sexual violence cases is handled.

Beyond politics, the greater concern here is justice. Are victims of sexual assault receiving appropriate care? Are their attackers being aggressively and effectively sought after? And what improvements can be made in the administrative, investigative and judicial processes?

These questions are too important to ignore or to delay. They should not be swept aside or trivialized by talk of upcoming elections or political ambitions. They should be and are being addressed now. And that may not be soon enough for victims awaiting justice.

The News-Enterprise, Elizabethtown

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