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New State System To Track Sex Assault Evidence Rolling Out

Forensic Science and Technology Undersecretary Kerry Collins said a new tracking system for sexual assault evidence is going to give the survivor "transparency" on an evidence kit's status. (Sam Doran/SHNS)
Forensic Science and Technology Undersecretary Kerry Collins said a new tracking system for sexual assault evidence is going to give the survivor "transparency" on an evidence kit's status. (Sam Doran/SHNS)

Survivors of sexual assault in Massachusetts will soon be able to track the evidence associated with their case as it progresses through the testing process, under a new online system being gradually rolled out in different parts of the state.

The tracking system, a requirement of a 2018 criminal justice reform law, was launched in six southeastern Massachusetts counties earlier this month, and is expected to be live across the state within the next month. Rollouts are planned on Feb. 3 for central and western Massachusetts and in Essex, Middlesex and Suffolk counties on Feb. 24.

"This is a very powerful tool," Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito said at a meeting of the Governor's Council to Address Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence. "I come here today feeling quite proud that Massachusetts, I feel, has the most state-of-the-art mobile tracking system, but the most important part of this system is that it empowers the user, which means we're empowering the victim and survivor."

The system provides sexual assault survivors with confidential access to information about the status of their evidence kit, also known as a rape kit, and allows them to receive email or text notifications when the kit's status changes — for example, when the local police department sends it to the crime lab for analysis.

The system, called Track-Kit, will also be available to medical personnel, investigators, crime labs and prosecutors responsible for a particular kit through individual portals that present them with only the appropriate information, state officials said.

Polito said the tracking system was included in the law "to get to a backlog of kits that were in random places and a random state of care." She said there is now a "very small list of untested kits." Of 418 previously untested kits, Polito 264 kits that were able to be tested have been processed.

The portal for assault survivors is designed to be nondescript, Polito said, so that a user can still have privacy if accessing the site in a public or a shared space. It allows users to receive notifications if their password is changed, and includes a button that can be clicked if the user needs to leave the site quickly.

The state contracted with the Delaware-based company STACS DNA, which has also designed tracking systems in Arizona, Michigan, Washington, Nevada and Texas.

Kerry Collins, the undersecretary for forensic science and technology at the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, said Massachusetts officials did not want a "cookie cutter" tracking system and sought input from law enforcement, advocates and medical professionals while developing Track-Kit.

"We wanted to let folks know that this tracking system was not going to alter the way that they handled a sexual assault case. It was going to make it better," Collins said. "It was going to bring that transparency to the survivor so the survivor could see where their kit was every step of the way."

The law calling for a tracking system came on the heels of a 2016 law that extended the time period during which rape kits and other forensic evidence from sexual assault cases must be preserved to 15 years, matching the statute of limitations such crimes.

Polito said law enforcement across the state has been "all in" on the tracking system, and that the state is now in "a much better place in terms of knowing where the current evidence is and that they're tested."

Polito said 28 new crime lab scientists have been hired to analyze sexual assault evidence. Gov. Charlie Baker's $44.6 billion fiscal 2021 budget recommends funding the sexual assault and evidence kit line item, within the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, at about $87,000, the same amount as was included in this year's budget.

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