EXCLUSIVE: GBI reduces sexual assault evidence backlog by almost 80%

Over the last two years, employees in the Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Forensic Biology Section have worked to reduce a backlog of sexual assault evidence kits.

According to the GBI, they had 1,715 kits to process in April 2020. That number was down to just 380 in April 2022.

"They have significantly reduced the backlog by almost 80 percent in the past two years," explained GBI Public Affairs Director Nelly Miles.

The issue has been in the spotlight since 2016, when more than 3,000 untested rape kits were discovered "warehoused" at hospitals and in police evidence rooms across the state. State legislators passed a law requiring healthcare workers and law enforcement officers to turn them over to the GBI.

In November 2018, state officials announced the GBI had processed all of those previously untested evidence kits, but new ones come in every month.

To help address the backlog, the GBI lab started doing "male DNA screening" in March 2021, which means they do a preliminary test to determine whether a sexual assault kit contains any male DNA before doing full DNA typing. If the sample does not include male DNA, it is not tested any further because that means it does not include genetic material that would identify the victim's attacker.

"The analysts are able to rule out those negative cases. So, in male DNA screening, only those positive cases will move forward," said Miles. "That helps to move those cases more quickly."

She also credited additional funding for the crime lab approved by the Georgia General Assembly and the Governor's Office, as well as the employees themselves for addressing the backlog.

"These analysts they were able to work through the pandemic. They did not let up. They're very, very dedicated to that mission. So, with all of those combined factors, they were able to get this backlog down," Miles said.

The GBI is now working to secure funding to buy robotics that quickly screen up to 80 evidence kits at once for male DNA.