(Jefferson City) -- State leaders will soon have a better grasp of the magnitude of Missouri's backlog of untested sexual assault kits.
With funding from a $2.8 million federal grant, the Missouri attorney general's SAFE Kit Initiative is expected to complete its inventory of untested rape kits in the next couple of weeks.
Matthew Huffman, public affairs director for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, says the effort stems from the joint work of victim advocates, law enforcement and forensic experts.
He points out they discovered a lack of structure in terms of policies and procedures for these kits.
"One really specific example of that is, we realized that not every hospital was using rape kits in the same way, and sometimes they weren't even using the same kit," Huffman explains. "There wasn't a consistent process across the board in our state."
A 2018 audit found roughly 5,400 untested kits in the state, but fewer than half of hospitals and law enforcement agencies responded to the voluntary request for information.
The current count will come from directly contacting all hospitals and law enforcement agencies.
Processing rape kits can help bring justice for survivors and prevent future assaults.
The SAFE Kit Initiative's next steps will focus on forensic testing and creating an electronic tracking system, which Huffman says will allow law enforcement and survivors to access a kit or know its current status.
"Even if they decide, 'I don't want to go through the criminal justice process at any point,' just knowing that they have the kit there, and that there are systems and process in place to help them access justice, can be incredibly empowering," he states.
Missouri isn't alone in its backlog. It's estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country.
Testing of backlogged kits has resulted in the identification of nearly 1,300 serial rapists nationally as of January 2018.