For the first time, Oklahoma has laws governing when and how rape kits are tested.
Each rape kit must be taken to a lab within 20 days for testing and all kits must be tested, unless a victim specifically says no.
The Tulsa Police Department is testing is 3,005 untested kits from the past.
All the previous rape reports are being matched with a rape kit and sent off to a lab in OKC. TPD just sent off its first batch last week of 27 kits. Those kits range from the 1990s to 2016. TPD anticipates sending at least two dozen kits every month. That testing is being paid for by a $1.5 million dollar federal grant because each test can cost up to $1,500.
The new rape kits that come in will be tested by the Tulsa Police Department.
When a rape victim gets a sexual assault exam, also called a SANE exam, samples are collected like hairs and fluids, then saved in a kit to be tested for DNA. The DNA is added to the national database, called CODIS.
Oklahoma now has a process for how and when those kits get tested.
Sgt Jillian Phippen, Tulsa Police Special Victim’s Unit says, "we've never had any protocols on how to test kits, when to test kits. It's always been up to the individual departments."
Kits weren't tested in the past. If the victim wanted no part of going through the criminal justice process or if the attacker admitted it was their DNA but said the sex was consensual, but now all those will be tested. Many victims who want the exam but don't want to give their name or file a police report, still want their kits tested. They don’t want it for their own cases, but hope the evidence might solve cases for other victims.
Phippen said, "we're seeing more and more victims want that. We are respecting that and sending those to our labs as well too."
Phippen came into the unit in 2016, testing of kits increased from 22 percent to 57 percent and she served on the task force that helped create the new laws that will take that almost to 100 percent.
She also put a focus on victims in other ways as well. Tulsa's Special Victim's unit has added a new interview room with furniture and decorations to be more comfortable and inviting for victims. She also got a grant to hire a sexual assault victim advocate to help victims get resources they need and guide them through the process of getting justice.
Phippen said, "in the history of the Tulsa police department, we've never had a victim advocate, hired by the city of Tulsa."
She also recently got a grant to pay for another victim advocate for the detective division to help victims of other traumatic crimes.
The hope of testing more kits and the older kits is that once DNA is entered into the database police will start getting matches and make arrests in all kinds of crimes.
Here's the email for the TPD advocate if you would like to contact them: firstname.lastname@example.org