70,000 Rape kits have gone untested for decades

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By News One

USA Today has reported that at least 70,000 rape kits have gone untested across the country from over 1,000 various testing agencies.

Taking into account that the documented agencies only take up a portion of the 18,000 police departments in the country, the amount of the unaccounted for rape kits rose to over 100,000.

The kits often hold the key evidence to finding the rape suspect and/or solving a case, but officials use different rationales for not testing them all. At $1,000 per test, the daunting cost is one of the reasons departments don’t turn in all of the kits for examination. In Jackson, Mississippi rape kits remained untested because authorities claimed that in some cases the suspect was already found or there was “no suspect.”

USA Today reports

“A 2005 rape case went untested where woman was found under a car after reportedly doing drugs with a man and stated, “She asked him to stop but he continued to have sexual intercourse with her.”

A few days later, the documents show that the alleged victim did not remember anything. However, instead of testing the kit despite any conflict in the story, authorities did nothing with the potential evidence until a month ago when it was finally tested.

It’s a sentiment that exists in various police departments and was highlighted in 2008 when over 10,000 untested rape kits were found in Detroit.

“The fact is that rape kits are unsubmitted for testing because of a blame-the-victim mentality or because investigators mistrust the survivors story,” said Attorney General Madigan said.

Doubting victims isn’t limited to just adults who claim to have been sexually assaulted. From 1996 to 1999, 43 of the rape kits taken in by the Dallas Police department were from children. There are 4,000 kits that have gone untested and officials say there is no plan to select any of them for testing.

“Dallas police spokesman Major Jeff Conner told reporters, “Often, someone will say that they were victimized. But when you get into the case, actually what it is, is that their parent had told them not to go visit a friend, so they had to make up a story.”

As a result of these numerous backlogged test, he thinks it is more important to focus on submitting new kits instead of tending to the outstanding 4,000 because that would cause delays in current investigations.

Some states, however, are moving towards the testing of every submitted rape kit. New York, Maryland, Massachusetts,Oklahoma and New Jersey have pending bills that will require inventories of submitted rape kits. Bills for mandatory testing in West Virginia, Oklahoma, New Jersey, Tennessee would also bring laws for kit testing to other states, Colorado, Illinois,Washington, Texas, Ohio and Michigan.

Testing kits do not only provide evidence in rape cases, but they also open up the possibility to potentially find an offender’s DNA match through databases.

Hence the story of Debbie Smith, a woman who was raped during a home invasion and from there on lived in fear that her attacker would come back to kill her as he’d promised if she mentioned what had happened. Smith’s case was solved 6 1/2 years later, when the DNA found in her kit matched that of her offender who was already incarcerated in Maryland for another crime.

In the governments efforts to further investigate countless rape cases, it has provided $1.2 billion dollars to eliminate the backlog of untested kits in the United States. Although the funds have been allotted, the country has still not enforced the 2013 legislation passed by Congress on police departments. The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act (SAFER), is supposed to ensure that at minimum, 75% of the money be used for testing, but with the large amount of untouched kits, it is evident that many agencies and authorities have not been in compliance.

Outside of the legalities of testing and funding matters, it is justice for the rape survivors that must be put at the forefront of this issue.

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