Call for Innovation: Automated Rape Kit Processing

As recent social movements have shown, the power of visibility should not be underestimated. While the larger culture of inappropriate conduct is beginning to come into the open, this attention needs to go further – there is an unacceptable number rape kits that go untested, or ignored.

Collecting the data itself is an arduous process – taking up to 4 hours, it requires taking hair, swabs, pictures, and a variety of tests focusing on areas where the assault occurredThis process is performed at a hospital, then the kit is passed along to the police where, if processed, the data will often be logged into a national database. A Utah crime lab has taken up the challenge of automation after their state legislature passed a law requiring kit testing, showing a way forward for innovation.

The process of collecting these kits, testing them, logging them, and using them in trials is not universal – as such, it needs more than a single innovator, it needs a community of like minded innovators driving experiments in processing to end the backlog.

The first requirement that needs to be handled for any such system would be the privacy of those involved – which fully autonomous systems may be able to resolve, though the gap needed to cover to get there remains in feasible in the short run. Many suffering the abuse end up waiting to go and get the tests, for a variety of reasons – for some, embarrassment from a culture that shuns those who suffered such assaults; for others, shame; for others, fear of retribution – the reasons go on.

Moving forward, innovators will have to deal with standardization. Different kits would be required for different systems – while a common kit and common testing procedure are needed down the line, what is immediately needed is an increased number of completed tests, reduced result error, and reduced time for testing.

Further along, innovators will have to cope with the same issue driving the need for innovation – the multiple differences in basic access. In areas where access to crime labs with the prerequisite talent and equipment is infeasible, alternative solutions may be demanded – as such, an area of innovation that needs to be considered is replicable automated system for manual data entry from standard and non-standard documents. Many of the tasks involved require long manual entry, which could be extensively shortened and automated. Moreover, this would require a stable environment in which to run the tests, requiring more extensive robotic equipment.

In areas with limited access to hospital spaces, or limited knowledge by hospital staff, pop-up kit testing areas may be an alternative.

Beyond the processing itself, some app developers have taken to providing visibility on whether or not the kit has been processed.

The testing would either have to be logged directly, or create an independent registry that could at a later time be run through the police database. However, any such independent registry may cause more problems that it would solve.  

The unfortunate reality is that the burden of appeal is falling on those who have suffered assault and abuse – a process which can further the emotional damage and difficulties already faced.

Innovation in the completion of testing is a small part in alleviating this burden, and moving towards a more just system of response to assault.

Article By Joshua Entsminger
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