BCI Completes Testing of Thousands of Rape Kits from Past 4 Decades, Including Kent and Kent State

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigations (BCI) tested 62 rape kits from the city of Kent and eight rape kits from Kent State University as part of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative.

The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation, or BCI, caught up on testing almost  14,000 backlogged rape kits. Reporter LiAnna Schwerer shows us the process.

The kits are commonly known as rape kits, but test for all forms of sexual assault. As part of the initiative, BCI tested kits collected between 1971 and 2014. The backlog of kits were tested separately from current kits coming in, and results for kits come back in about three weeks.

The City of Kent, as of February 1, had zero hits from the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) according to the report, though Kent Detective David Marino noted that since then the department has received a hit and a case is pending. Kent State had six hits. A hit is a match to current offender DNA or DNA collected from current crime scenes.

Tricia Knoles, Community Resource Office with the Kent State University Police Department, said in an email that the Attorney General transposed the results from the City of Kent to Kent State University. The February 1 results released later that month originally showed that Kent State had six hits, but according to Knoles, they actually had zero and it was the City of Kent that had six.

 

These local numbers are substantially smaller compared to other agencies in Ohio. Cleveland submitted nearly 4,500 kits, Toledo submitted nearly 2,000, and Akron submitted nearly 1,500.

Marino said one of the reasons the kits weren’t tested sooner — at least in Kent — was because of an “old-school” mentality.

“It wasn’t something where police departments were ignoring it,” he said, noting that agencies may not have tested the kits because the victim did not want to press charges.

As part of the initiative, DeWine expanded BCI’s forensic science division to handle the influx of kits and the associated work.

What is CODIS?

The Combined DNA Index System, known most commonly as CODIS, collects DNA profiles from sexual assault kits. This profile is then referenced against the state database of convicted offender and arrestee profiles.

If there is a hit — a match to DNA profiles in the system — then agencies verify the match and may use this to obtain a court order to authorize collection of a DNA sample from the offender. Then, labs can analyze the DNA so it can be used as evidence in court.

DNA profiles from the kits were uploaded to the CODIS database. This means police departments can link subjects to multiple rape cases, and closed cases could be reopened.

University policies differ between institutions, but in Kent, rapes that occur on-campus are handled by the Kent State Police Department. If the incident occurs off-campus, it is handled by the jurisdiction in which it occurred.

For example, if a rape occurs on-campus between two Kent State students, the process begins when a student reports it. With the exception of psychologists and the clergy, all Kent State employees are required to report rape to the Title IX office. The Title IX office may conduct a concurrent investigation alongside the Kent State Police. If the student wants the other student to be held accountable within the university’s system, the case would also go to the Office of Student Conduct.

Director of Student Conduct Todd Kamenash said that in these cases, if the student is found responsible for physical violence or gender/sexual harassment, the minimum punishment the university considers is suspension or dismissal from the university.

“I can’t tell you that every single situation will result in that but that’s going to be at least up for discussion,” he said. “It’s unlikely that we have anything less than a probationary status.”

If a rape occurs on campus and the perpetrator is not a Kent State student, the Office of Student Conduct may issue a persona non-grata status against the perpetrator. The status may last a maximum of five years, and during that time the perpetrator is prohibited from visiting campus and becoming a student. If they visit the campus, they may be arrested.

There are cases, however, where someone may be sexually assaulted as defined by the university policy, but legally the perpetrator may only be charged with misconduct. Ohio doesn’t have a definition for sexual assault: only sexual imposition, gross sexual imposition, sexual battery and rape. Even so, the office of Student Conduct can still take action by issuing a probationary status or required learning outcomes.

“We can’t stop someone from applying as a student … but if they’re going to be able to be a student here is a different issue,” Kamenash said.

Aside from adjudication, students can also access local resources to help them heal, like the office of Sexual and Relationship Violence Support Services at Kent State or Townhall II in downtown Kent.

To assure preservation of evidence, victims should avoid showering, changing clothes and using the restroom. They should also report the assault as soon as possible.

Victims can report their rape directly to the police or at a hospital. At the hospital, a Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner will collect the evidence. Kits must be taken to a BCI lab within 30 days.

Kent Police Lieutenant Michael Lewis said that even though it’s challenging for the victim to talk about their assault, he hopes they still come forward.

“We want any victim of sexual assault to come forward to speak with police,” he said. “At the very least, speak with a counselor. Speak to someone that you trust, that you can confide in, that you can get the help that you need.”

An earlier version of this story said that Kent State University had six hits.