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Could untested rape kits help catch serial offenders?

by: Shae Rozzi Updated:

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TULSA, Okla. -  

Quick Facts:

  • There’s a national push to test thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police departments across the country.
  • Shae Rozzi investigates whether we have a backlog in Green Country.
  • FOX23 discovered the steps Tulsa police are taking to try to identify serial rapists 

 

Untested rape kits are sitting in police evidence rooms across the country.

FOX23’s Shae Rozzi talked to the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation and the Tulsa Police Department to see if they have the same problems.

She found the steps they are taking to offer sexual assault survivors hope more attackers will be taken off the streets.

“Someone grabbed me. We fought and we fought and we fought,” said Dee Jakubowski.

Jakubowski was attacked, raped and robbed on Mother’s Day week 20 years ago in her Tulsa flower shop.

“He finally was strangling me, and I got enough air,” she said. “I said, ‘Don’t kill me.’”

HEAR MORE: Dee's full interview about her attack:

She was beaten so badly during the attack that she did not know she had been raped at first. She never went through what is commonly called a “rape kit.”

Tulsa police gave FOX23 access to their crime lab so we could see what a kit looks like.

  • Swabs are used to collect DNA evidence from the victim’s body.
  • Clothes are tested for DNA .
  • Evidence is entered into an FBI database to identify the suspect

It can take about three months for the results to come back.

According to Domestic Violence Intervention Services, which sends advocates to support the victims during the exam, nurses performed at least 466 sexual assault exams on victims in the Tulsa area in 2015-- more than one per day.

Not all of those kits are tested. Some from years ago have never been tested.

“I’m sure there’s thousands [of untested kits],” said Sgt. Jillian Phippen, Tulsa Police Department.

Phippen is a sex crimes sergeant with the department. She is applying for a federal grant to count and test rape kits sitting in boxes of evidence inside the Tulsa police property room.

The average cost of testing a sexual assault kit is about $1,000. Going through years of untested kits would add up fast.

“We would love to get these tested,” said Phippen. “We know there is evidence in there that we could possibly use.”

Phippen wants to make it clear there is no backlog of active rape investigations in Tulsa.

“These are not cases where we have victims sitting at home, saying, ‘I wish they would just test my kit so we can put someone in prison,’” said Phippen. “That is not happening.”

She said the untested kits may be from victims who did not want to move forward with an investigation or cases in which the attacker was known, so spending money and resources at the time may not have been necessary.

“We do have repeat offenders,” said Phippen. “We do have serial rapists and peeping Toms out there that if we did have that in our system, we could immediately be able to connect, seek them out and speak to them.”

EndtheBacklog.org said 18 states have either passed or are trying to pass rape kit reform laws that include counting the number of untested kits, requiring deadlines for police to submit and test kits or creating a victim notification process.

Oklahoma is not on that list.

Legislation drafted in 2014 would have required testing of all kits in Oklahoma, but lawmakers killed it.

An Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigations spokesperson said the legislation was not needed because the state does not have a backlog of active rape cases and nationally, jurisdictions have not had the resources to work their cases as quickly as they should have been worked.

Domestic Violence Intervention Services supports testing all kits and believes victims would, too.

“I think you would find that over time people would be more willing to go forward with an investigation,” said Donna Matthews, director with Domestic Violence Intervention Services.

Jakubowski’s attacker was caught because he bragged about the crime. She also supports testing all kits. She now works as an advocate for other rape survivors.

“How do you make people safer? This is one way,” she said.

Oklahoma rape victims can have an exam done even if they do not want to report the crime to police.

Help is available by calling 918-Help-Me.