New Orleans' pediatric health care facilities had 94 untested rape kits in their custody as of Jan. 1, according to a report requested by state Sen. J.P. Morrell, D-New Orleans. The report included a statewide inventory of rape kit backlogs.
Rape kits contain sensitive DNA evidence collected from victims of sexual assault. The kits then are supposed to be collected by law enforcement and the results entered into an FBI database that connects criminal justice agencies nationwide, possibly linking other cases and offenders.
The report requested by Morrell follows a 2014 law he wrote to force Louisiana law enforcement agencies to report their rape kit backlogs (kits that have not been tested and connected to the FBI database) by Jan. 1, 2015. The report found 1,069 untested kits statewide — including kits from two pediatric facilities: Children's Hospital of New Orleans and its Audrey Hepburn Children at Risk Evaluation Center.
Dr. John Heaton, chief medical officer at Children's Hospital, told Gambit the hospital is working with multiple jurisdictions to ensure that the kits are picked up by appropriate law enforcement agencies. Heaton also clarified that the hospital can only act as a custodian for the kits and cannot test them. In a statement to Gambit, Children's Hospital CEO Mary Perrin said the hospital treated 1,479 survivors of sexual assault in 2014.
According to New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) spokesman Tyler Gamble, 11 of those incidents occurred in Orleans Parish. Gamble told Gambit those kits were collected last week and await testing by the Louisiana State Police crime lab. The 11 New Orleans pediatric kits were not listed among the 209 untested kits in the custody of the NOPD.
"What this data says to us is that we have a problem that needs addressing and the fact that there are any untested pediatric kits at all is especially troubling and disturbing," Morrell said in a statement. "We must do everything within our power to ensure that the outstanding pediatric sexual assault kits that have never been picked up by law enforcement are put on the record, investigated and resolved to bring justice to these young victims."
Morrell said addressing the disposition of these untested kits will be part of his 2015 legislative package.