State Auditor and mayoral candidate Timothy “Tim” Keller has recently partnered with the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners Collaborative to help reduce the amount of rape kit backlogs in Albuquerque, which would theoretically reduce the amount of sexual assault in the city.
Rape kits are taken as evidence for possible future prosecution of the offender, but Albuquerque has a backlog of over 3,000 untested kits, according to a 2016 state audit report.
According to their , “the Albuquerque SANE Collaborative serves sexual assault and domestic violence victims by providing immediate, compassionate, culturally sensitive and comprehensive medical treatment and forensic evaluation by nurse experts.”
SANE has been focusing on rape kit backlogs for about a decade, Keller said.
“They’re the ones that actually administer a rape kit exam and collect the evidence and then they turn that evidence over to law enforcement,” he said.
The collaborative recognized that the people that come to them are going through one of the most traumatic points in their life and they have the courage to go in and give them evidence, Keller said, but then it just sits on a shelf and no further actions are taken.
Sexual assault is a national issue, and now everyone wants to know how big the backlog is, he said. Those questions were around for about five years, and no one ever got a straight answer from any law enforcement department, city or county, he said.
“Fast forward to a couple years ago, I heard about this issue, and there was a state auditor in Kentucky who literally went around and counted these as part of an audit,” Keller said.
The Kentucky auditor thought of the idea, because he realized that his office audits law enforcement agencies, and counts how many desks, firearms and other equipment they have, Keller said. So Keller decided to also count the number of untested rape kits in New Mexico.
Keller said that the Kentucky auditor was the first one who connected these two ideas. He said he chose to partner with SANE, because the program is the only group with a task force on the rape kit backlog.
The partnership is based on “conducting a count to find out what the rape kit backlog is,” Keller said. “SANE helped us understand the system, how it works and who’s involved. Then we physically went and counted rape kits in evidence rooms and did a report on it.”
In regards to the sexual assault problem here, in New Mexico, Keller said he plans to do several things about it.
“This is a big reason why I’m running for mayor,” he said. “What we found, despite our audit, is that there are two backlogs.”
At the state level, Governor Susana Martinez has stepped up and, through her cabinet secretary, has established a plan to end the backlog, Keller said. At the city level, there’s been a lot of talk, press releases and ideas.
“Now, a year later, their backlog is even bigger, and there’s no plan in sight to end it. That is unilaterally the responsibility of the mayor, and my plan is to take responsibility for that and actually end the rape kit backlog over the next couple of years,” Keller said.
This would mean prioritizing funding for it, he said.
Keller said that taking care of the backlog will have a huge ripple effect on sexual assaults.
“When you deal with this backlog, the DNA evidence gets loaded into a database and then that’s matched with other sexual assaults that have happened. Then we can get these criminals off the streets, because we are combining the DNA evidence to actually convict them and take them to court,” Keller said.
Keller announced last week that the state has already found 72 people who have committed other sexual assaults.
“That was from testing 600 kits,” he said. “There’s a backlog of 5,000, so that means that, statistically speaking, there could be 400 more repeat sexual assault offenders who are unidentified, because we haven’t processed this backlog.”
Keller encourages students to take advantage of the lessons taught in The Grey Area Training, UNM’s mandatory sexual assault training. He said he wants students to remember that “not saying ‘no,’ does not equal ‘yes.’”
Kelly Urvanejo is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @kelly_urvanejo.