State must pay for assault prosecution

Sexual assault is a heinous crime, resulting in injuries far beyond physical ones. It is a violation of a person’s humanity, the pain from which haunts victims for lifetimes.

It is the duty of a civilized society to vigorously combat sexual crimes and to apply all available means toward capturing and prosecuting perpetrators. It is disheartening, then, that Kentucky is forced to confront its shortcomings in addressing sexual assault cases, including an inadequate state crime lab, a backlog of untested rape kits and a lack of money for prosecutors to pay for expert witnesses.

Unless Kentuckians are comfortable with allowing unsolved case files to pile up and rapists to go unpunished, legislators must address these problems now. This is precisely the sort of thing our tax dollars should be spent on.

Auditor Adam Edelen in November will present a report to the Legislative Research Commission about the number of untested rape kits — and the reasons for their lack of testing — in hundreds of law enforcement agencies around the state. The result of Edelen’s count could trigger the influx of federal and nonprofit funds to help clear the backlog of untested kits.

Good news on this front was received Thursday, when the White House and New York’s district attorney announced that nearly $80 million would be made available to help clear the backlog of untested rape kits across the country. From that, Kentucky State Police will receive a $1.9 million grant from the DA’s office in Manhattan, money that will help test more than 3,000 rape kits, according to a KSP news release.

The grant certainly helps, but it is not enough. We echo Warren County Commonwealth’s Attorney Chris Cohron’s call for the General Assembly to significantly improve the state crime lab’s financial situation. It’s hard for us to imagine that legislators can, in good conscience, allow evidence necessary to prosecute perpetrators of vicious assaults to simply gather dust. Does state government really want to tell a victim of a sexual crime that his or her attacker remains free because there isn’t enough money to process evidence in a timely manner, or because prosecutors could not afford an important witness?

Such problems exist nationwide, but Kentucky can do better. Cohron says the state crime lab needs $10 million as soon as possible. That’s really not much in terms of the state budget, and lawmakers should commit to allocating whatever the lab needs when they reconvene in January.

If Kentuckians are unwilling to do whatever is necessary to bring justice in some of the most horrific, unconscionable crimes against its citizens, then it is time to rethink our priorities.

Bowling Green Daily News

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