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A Minnesota Police Department Paves the Way for Eliminating Rape Kit Backlogs

A small town in northern Minnesota is paving the way for police departments in their efforts to process and mitigate huge backlogs of untested rape kits.

The Duluth Police Department has eliminated its entire backlog and submitted 415 kits for laboratory testing, a move that could lead to justice for hundreds of sexual assault victims. With over 550 untested rape kits, the harbor town on Lake Superior had the largest backlog in the state, the Star Tribune reports.

Duluth was able to process so many kits in part with help from a $2 million grant from the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance. Though testing is not complete for all submitted rape kits, tests so far have led to 36 unit "hits" in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Combined DNA Index System, a national database of criminal offender DNA.

According to a report by the Star Tribune, nine suspects have been charged, and two have pleaded guilty.

The Duluth Police Department's announcement came just one day after Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton signed a new rape kit bill into law, giving law enforcement 10 days to pick up rape kits from hospitals and 60 days to get them to a crime lab for testing. The law will also provide more transparency to survivors by allowing them to see where their kit stands in the process and when it will be done.

Duluth's victory shows that, when it comes to addressing backlogs, government grants and a large-scale effort by local personnel are important steps in the process. Several states have recently addressed rape kit backlogs and increased funding to give police departments the ability to test kits more efficiently.