LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (KTHV) -- Children from all over the state come to receive the best health care Arkansas offers at the Arkansas Children's Hospital. Healing is in their nature, but for some children, that healing may have never come.
"Maybe we missed something. Maybe there is something there that we didn't see or collect, but it was in that kit," said Carol Maxwell, Director of Social Work at Arkansas Children's Hospital.
Maxwell helps children and their families through a variety of difficult situations, including the process of collecting a sexual assault evidence kit.
"A kit is done on a patient-male or female-if there is a history of or disclosure of any kind of sexual contact for which there might be forensic evidence to obtain," added Maxwell.
Those kits are supposed to be tested for any DNA that doesn't belong to that child, possibly proving the assault happened and who did it. But, for around 200 kits, those tests never happened.
It's a fairly detailed process. The hospital collects the kit and notifies the Arkansas Child Abuse Hotline who in turn notifies the law enforcement agency where the crime happened. Police come, pick up the kit and take it to the Arkansas State Crime Lab for testing. But, law enforcement never came for these 200 kits.
"The ones that aren't taken are generally because there either isn't just really clear evidence that makes law enforcement want to do it. They have other huge issues they are dealing with, and sometimes if it is a weak history-not weak that we don't need to report it-but too weak that maybe they are not going to be able to do anything with it like a 2 or 3-year-old that really cannot give a disclosure. What are they going to do about that even though there is concern? I think there are a lot of reasons why law enforcement doesn't pick up the kits and why they have collected over time," explained Maxwell.
Arkansas Children's Hospital said it realized some time ago the kits were stacking up. They contacted several agencies to figure out what they should do, and finally last month, the Arkansas State Crime Lab and Director Kermit Channel offered their help.
"We will accept those kits, basically transfer from Children's hospital to us, so we have a proper chain of custody. We'll examine the kits to determine if there is anything worthy of DNA at that point," said Channel.
Channel said they are currently testing a batch of 20 of these kits, looking for anything that is not tied to that potential victim. The crime lab will collect 50 more every other week until all of them are tested. Many of them may turn up nothing, but for the ones that do Channel said his office will find the law enforcement agency it belongs to.
"One way or the other, we will ascertain whether or not there is anything in the kits and get the results to the appropriate personnel," added Channel.
Even then, Arkansas Children's Hospital collected these kits as long as 12 years ago. Even if they find the potential perpetrator, is it too late?
"The longer the time span, of course, the more difficult it's going to be. The best time is right when things happen. We follow up on leads and do our investigation," said Felicia Epps, Professor of Law at UALR.
Epps said it's not impossible to prosecute a potential child abuser so many years later, but it will require much more than the results of a DNA test. Even then, the statue of limitations for many of them may be up.
"The norm would be six years, so that means for some of those cases, we would be beyond the time when those charges could be pursued, but there are other factors that could come in to change that as well," explained Epps.
By law, it is impossible for us, the media, to know which law enforcement agencies are involved in this. We contacted several to see what their processes were for picking up kits and asked why they would gather some but not others. No one wanted to talk on camera. As for Arkansas Children's Hospital, they said they are now taking things into their own hands, contacting the police themselves.
"I'm very optimistic that notifying law enforcement directly will really not completely resolve it because we will probably always have those cases that nobody wants to manage, but I think getting them more involved on the front end is really going to be helpful," said Maxwell.
Arkansas Children's Hospital said so far one backlogged kit has been tied to another case and is currently being investigated. We checked with other Little Rock hospitals about their backlogs.
UAMS said they currently have 35 kits that have not been picked up. Baptist Hospital said they have zero.
Children's Hospital said there are other hospitals around the country experiencing the same problems but hopes better communication will relieve their current backlog for good.