*Formatting and title updated Oct. 25, 2023. This blog was originally published under the title "Evidence That Shouldn't Be Forgotten About: The Rape Kit Backlog In Our Country Has Become A Serious"
Imagine being told that your case is irrelevant. Imagine the evidence that could put your offender away is completely disregarded. Imagine certain evidence can get an innocent individual who is currently in prison exonerated. When a rape kit goes untested an individual constantly lives in fear because their offender has not been caught. Wouldn’t one think that testing evidence, especially in rape cases would never be forgotten about? Individuals in our country have finally decided to take a stand against this backlog in order to exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty through research, legislation and education.
So, what exactly is the Rape Kit Backlog? In sexual assault crimes, a victim’s body is considered part of the crime scene. When a victim reports an assault, they have the option to agree to an invasive body examination that can take four to six hours. Evidence is collected and preserved in a rape kit. DNA evidence contained in rape kits can be helpful in locating an offender or exonerating a wrongfully convicted person. According to End the Backlog, over 225,000 untested rape kits have been uncovered. The rape kit backlog stems from two different issues. The first issue is that even if the rape kits are collected or booked into evidence, detectives and prosecutors may not ask for a DNA analysis. The second issue has to do with the crime laboratory facilities, where the rape kits are awaiting DNA analysis and are not being tested in a timely manner.
Until last year, there were no national requirements or guidelines on what to do with rape kits according to the Washington Post. The Department of Justice advises that all rape kits be submitted for DNA analysis. However, in New York City, an estimated 17,000 kits were untested and in Los Angeles more than 11,000 kits were left untested. In Virginia Beach, 344 kits were sent to a lab and only 49 resulted in a match in their database. A recent study in Cuyahoga County, Ohio found that tested kits return a conviction rate more than 20% of the time, showing that there are plenty of benefits to testing the thousands of untested rape kits. Legislators and activists have encouraged states throughout our country to start counting their kits and send them to be tested. Some kits have leads and some don’t.
Activist and actress Mariska Hargitay frames this current crisis in the new HBO documentary, I Am Evidence. The documentary gives a story to each and every one of these untested kits. “The fact of the matter is, if we have DNA testing, if we have the ability to fix this problem and we don’t test these kits, we’re saying that sexual assault is not important,” says Hargitay. Hargitay explores individuals being re-victimized and questioned by law enforcement regarding their assault. I Am Evidence shows how individuals are longing for the results, but unfortunately, rarely get any answers. If our country has the technology to test these kits, why are they refusing?
Many individuals are unaware of this rape kit backlog and organizations are traveling around the country in order to educate the public. Through legislative campaigns such as H-E-A-R-T and Test 400k, federal advocacy, training, research, education, and awareness programs we can help stop this rape kit backlog.