The SAFE Alliance reaction to moldy rape kits
Last week we told you about mold being found on the outside of more than 800 Austin Police Department rape kits. Now the SAFE Alliance is speaking out, saying incidents like this can cause people to lose faith in the system.
"So we're inside Eloise House," says Kristen Lenau, response coordinator, SAFE.
It's a 24/7 clinic on the SafePlace campus, dedicated to administering free sexual assault forensic exams to survivors. They see 60 people a month, 600 people a year. It was hard for response coordinator Kristen Lenau to hear that officials found mold on hundreds of APD rape kits.
"Well, it was horrifying honestly. You know, these aren't just cardboard boxes sitting on a shelf. These are people's stories, this is their trusted confidence in the system and this community to take this crime seriously," says Lenau.
A lab contracted by the city notified the Austin Police Department on April 25th that they found mold inside of at least one sexual assault kit. The next day, there was an inspection of the storage refrigerator in question. An audit was conducted on 1,629 kits, 849 of them were found to have some signs of mold on the outside.
"None of this evidence has been used for prosecution, nor has it been processed. We have no information at this time that this mold has impacted any of these kits," says Interim Chief Brian Manley, Austin Police Department.
"We're absolutely concerned about the impact that this could have on prosecution," says Lenau.
APD is seeking more advice on how to properly handle the situation before checking on the inside of the kits. Lenau says it's the uncertainty that is unsettling for survivors.
"I actually spent about an hour last week with someone that came in because she was so worried that her kit was one of the ones covered in mold," says Lenau.
This is just the latest concern.
APD is still facing a backlog of thousands of rape kits and they even had to suspend their DNA lab. The SAFE Alliance wants to see these issues resolved and that in the future, survivors are included in the process.
"I think our number one concern is ensuring people in our community are comfortable in coming forward, they're comfortable making a report, they seek out services. This kind of news, over and over again, it definitely impacts people's interest and confidence in getting evidence collected," says Lenau.
At last check, APD was still awaiting the report on the original rape kit where mold was found inside. But, Interim Chief Manley says the lab has indicated they do not believe it had a negative impact on the test.