Each year, the Maine State Crime Lab sends out about 400 sexual assault kits to hospitals and other health care providers. Each year, about 20%-25% of those kits, which are used in forensic evaluations to collect evidence of possible sexual assaults, are returned to the lab for testing.

What happens to the rest of the kits – whether they go unused or get stuck in a police evidence locker – is largely unknown, sometimes even for the survivors themselves.

Prosecutors, law enforcement officials, nurses and advocates for sexual assault survivors gathered in Augusta on Monday morning to lobby for a bill that would create an inventory of all untested rape kits in Maine and an electronic tracking system. Proponents argue the reforms, which most states have already adopted, are a key first step to more successfully prosecuting a crime that regularly goes unpunished.

“Sexual assault is a crime,” L.D. 2129’s sponsor, Rep. Valli Geiger, told the Legislature’s Committee on Criminal Justice and Public Safety during the public hearing. “It is time that Maine took it seriously.”


Forensic evaluations are an important piece of investigating sexual assaults. But there are several reasons – some valid, others problematic – why rape kits might not immediately be tested, experts say.


Many survivors do not immediately want to file a complaint with police but want to preserve any evidence in case they decide to pursue a case later. Under Maine law, these anonymous kits must be stored by a local law enforcement agency but may not be tested until the survivor decides to come forward.

Other times, police or prosecutors may elect not to send rape kits to the crime lab for testing because they doubt the credibility of the report or because the case centers only on the question of consent, not whether a sexual act took place. In Maine, those completed kits might sit on shelves for years without any centralized record detailing their existence – even current best practice says all kits should be tested, according to Jackie Sartoris, district attorney for Cumberland County.

“You’re not supposed to hang on and see if you have a credible victim,”she said.“You don’t ask a burglary victim if they’ve made it up.”

Because there’s currently no inventory in the state, it’s impossible to know just how many kits sit untested in 2024. Several speakers Monday said that uncertainty poses problems for both law enforcement and the survivors who agree to undergo lengthy and invasive examinations, but then never learn whether their kit even reached the crime lab.

“It is unfair to ask a patient to be OK with sitting with unanswered questions about the status or whereabouts or processes or journey of their kit,” said Danielle Coutu, one of two nurses who testified in favor of the bill, which would allow survivors to easily track whether their kits had been tested but would not provide them detailed test results. “It revictimizes survivors of sexual assault when kits are not tested.”

Christian Behr, a longtime police officer who now works as a domestic assault investigator in the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office, said a tracking system would both provide survivors with a sense of control, and promote accountability and proper evidence handling within police departments.


Jason Moen, interim president of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, and Meaghan Maloney, president of the Maine Prosecutor’s Association, also joined the chorus of support.

“This is a very important first step in a long road,” Maloney said. “Unfortunately, Maine is very behind the times.”


Few states had comprehensive systems for inventorying and tracking rape kits a decade ago, leading to huge testing backlogs, according to Ilse Knecht, policy director at the Joyful Heart Foundation.

One study, cited by the Congressional Research Service in 2022, estimated that up to 400,000 completed kits were sitting in police evidence lockers, hospitals and crime labs nationally waiting to be tested.

In 2016, the Joyful Heart Foundation published its “Six Pillars,” a set of proposed reforms intended to help states work through their testing backlog and provide better service and transparency to survivors of sexual assault in the future. Knecht said the campaign has been hugely successful – 30 states have adopted at least five of the reforms, which include building a state inventory of untested kits, mandating the testing of all submitted kits and implementing a tracking system so officials and victims know when kits have been tested.


Maine, which had a backlog of 530 untested rape kits in 2018, is the only state in the country that still hasn’t adopted even one of the recommended reforms.

“It’s really a public safety threat when our criminal justice process doesn’t take these crimes seriously,” Knecht said.

She pointed to a recent effort to clear a backlog of more than 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit dating back to 1984. By the time the crime lab finished going through the kits, it had identified more than 800 serial rapists linked to crimes committed in 40 states, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation’s website.

An inventory system will allow researchers, the crime lab and law enforcement agencies to more comprehensively track how cases are being handled – or not handled. Knecht said that transparency would hopefully discourage police from tossing aside evidence too quickly and serve as a step toward rape kit reformers’ ultimate goal: universal testing.


No one at Monday’s hearing testified in opposition of L.D. 2129. But some members of the committee appeared anxious to learn what the cost of the reform would be.


Lt. Mike Zabarsky, who runs the Maine State Crime Lab, said the Department of Public Safety was not yet ready to estimate the cost of putting together an inventory and building or buying a tracking system, but said that it would be “significant,” especially if the state moves toward universal kit testing. He said the bill could require several new hires, but the department will have a better idea once it gathers more information through a smaller pilot tracking system currently being rolled out in Kennebec and Penobscot counties.

Zabarsky said the department had “strong reservations” about moving forward with the bill until the conclusion of that pilot.

“Simply put the project has not had enough time,” he said.

But Knecht said after the hearing that she was optimistic the reforms could be instituted for far less than $1 million. Most states, she pointed out, have found the money to improve their testing system.

“It just has been done,” she said. “And it can be done.”

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