Christine Stuart file photo
Laura Cordes, executive director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services. (Christine Stuart file photo)

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy joined victim advocates last week to commemorate passage of a new law that improves the processing and collection of sexual assault evidence.

The new law speeds the transfer of all sexual assault evidence kits from police stations to the Connecticut Forensic Science Lab in Meriden.

According to a report by Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, 879 rape kits have yet to be sent to the state crime lab for testing.

Laura Cordes, executive director of Connecticut Sexual Assault Crisis Services, said that of those yet to be tested, 38 percent were over five years old.

“Each represents a survivor, Cordes said. “Each kit should be tested.”

The legislature, Malloy, and the Police Chiefs Association agreed.

State law stipulated that all rape kits should be sent to the lab for testing, but until now the law had been silent on the timeline for transfer and testing. Standard protocol had been for police in the town in which the rape occurred to pick up the kit from the hospital and transport it to the lab in Meriden.

But the guidelines had been unclear for police on when or whether to bring the kit to the lab and some sexual assault victims had reported that their kits were being held at police stations. A survey of Connecticut police departments by the Commission on the Standardization of the Collection of Evidence in Sexual Assault Investigation found that of the many untested sexual assault forensic exam kits in their possession, some more than five years old.

Cordes said when the state tests all kits, even those without a name, it sends a strong message to sexual assault victims that they matter.

Anonymous kits were required to be transferred to the lab, but remained untested unless the victim chose to report the assault. Under the new law, the anonymous cases will be required to be held by the lab up to five years to give the victims time to decide whether to pursue their case.

The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1, requires the state lab to analyze the kits with a name attached within 60 days.

“This is about standing up for and protecting victims, and our new law is another step in our efforts to do just that,” Malloy said. “Establishing clear protocols for handling evidence will help law enforcement in their efforts to identify perpetrators, while increasing care for victims.”

Carolyn Treiss, executive director of the Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, said Malloy’s creation of a work group to help figure out what factors led to the backlog in the first place “will help expedite the handling of backlogged kits in an efficient way while acting with the utmost sensitivity toward the people affected.”

In 2011, the Connecticut Forensic Science Lab lost its national accreditation after two federal audits brought to light the facility’s staffing shortages and a forensic backlog of several thousand cases. A legislative report found that there were 205 rape kits at the lab that still needed to be processed. The problems were corrected and the lab was reaccredited in February 2012.