By: Lauren Cabrera, Member-Candidate, J.D. Candidate, May 2020, St. Thomas University School of Law.

Twenty-three-year-old Melissa Souto walked into the hospital with her parents by her side. Eye contact was avoided, and the feeling of shame consumed her. The Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner walked out and called Melissa to enter the examining room.  The nurse’s kind demeanor gave Melissa a moment of comfort. 

As Melissa laid there, the nurse began the rape kit. Melissa felt as though she was living out a nightmare.   Shehad to recount to the nurse the gruesome details of her rape. A report had to be written and the appropriate tests conducted.  It was the longest two and a half hours of her life. 

Even though Melissa knew her attacker, the lab took about a year and a half to process the evidence in her rape kit.

When a rape kit is processed, the medical staff will place the objects in a contaminated-proof box. Then, depending on the jurisdiction, the kit will be transported to the appropriate law enforcement facility in which a forensic team will run the DNA samples through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), in an effort to confirm a positive DNA match.   

Although CODIS is a useful program in aiding law enforcement to identify rape suspects, the harsh reality is that thousands of rape kits go untested each year. Luckily, reform is happening, and states are in an effort to end the untested rape kit backlog.  Additionally, on a national level, the passing of the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act, supports efforts to audit, test, and reduce the backlog of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases by mandating that the FBI develop and publish a description of protocols and practices which set the standards for processing DNA evidence. By developing this national standard, state and local governments will be required to adhere to consistent practices by ensuring rape kits are properly being tested.

Here in Florida, the state is in the process of testing backlogged rape kits. However, the state has not implemented a statewide tracking system. Without a statewide tracking system, law enforcement faces an even greater obstacle in testing these rape kits because they cannot compare the DNA samples to others already tested within the state.  Florida should implement a statewide tracking system in order to give victims and law enforcement equal access to this information. 

 Idaho, for example, has created a statewide tracking system known as the Idaho Sexual Assault Kit Tracking System (IKTS). The Idaho State Police worked with its inhouse-web developers to research tracking systems available commercially and created its own user interface. The Idaho State Police has expressed its willingness to share this software with any public agency at no cost.  The software has been shared with several states already.  The Idaho legislature has even hired a full-time tracking kit administrator who trains others on how to use the system, as well as taking charge on compiling an annual report to provide to the state legislature.

If Florida could create its own tracking system, as Idaho has done within its state, this could potentially help increase positive identification of DNA in both new and backlogged rape kits.  The creation of these statewide tracking systems can help victims like Melissa Souto get justice without having to wait over a year for justice to be served.