Amarillo ahead of the curve with sexual assault tracking system

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AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT)—As MyHighPlains.com first reported back in June, Amarillo is serving as a pilot city for the Texas Department of Public Safety’s (DPS) new sexual assault evidence tracking system.

The electronic tracking system will give victims the ability to follow their rape kits after testing.

Becky O’Neal is a registered nurse and the coordinator of the sexual assault nurse examiner (SANE) team at Northwest Texas Hospital System.

During her 27 years at Northwest, O’Neal said she has seen about 2,500 victims.

“If the assault occurred within the last 96 hours, that’s when we’re collecting a kit, which is a sexual assault evidence collection kit,” O’Neal said. “The patient is like the crime scene to us. We’re the ones trying to lift DNA or get any kind of evidence off of the patient and then we package that and turn it over to law enforcement.”

Using the track kit software, victims of sexual assault can log in to track the status and location of their kit.

O’Neal said it’s a huge improvement from horror stories of rape kits sitting on shelves collecting dust.

“Now, they’re being tested and with this new program, the victim, the sexual assault nurse, the police—we are all allowed to track that kit. So once I collect the kit, I’m the one that starts the tracking for it. So we input the information into the computer with the barcode and then I give the patient information to where they can also track the kit.”

In the panhandle, all rape kits are sent to the DPS crime lab in Lubbock.

DPS is hoping to work out any kinks ahead of the program’s statewide rollout September 1.

“We are extremely pleased with the way the program is working already and we appreciate the partnership that we have with the agencies around the state that are helping us through this process,” said Rebecca Vieh, system program specialist at the DPS Crime Laboratory.

O’Neal said the program will greatly increase transparency and maybe even encourage more people to report.

“I want our community to know that we are just not letting this happen, that we are here at Northwest and we are doing what we can and now we can start this process and the victim’s going to know where their kit is and every kit’s going to be tested,” O’Neal added.

A new bill signed this year by Governor Greg Abbott will create a task force to focus on sexual assault. Lawmakers say the goal is to bridge gaps in resources for survivors at a statewide level, from evidence gathering and testing, to support and mental health services.

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