Across the nation, kits taken from rape victims shortly after the horrific crime is committed are sitting on shelves without being tested. These rape kits are obtained during a four-hour invasive examination whereby medical practitioners collect DNA samples from the victim’s body. In theory, this DNA evidence should then be tested, entered into a national database, and matched to known samples in an effort to assist police in catching the rapist. At about $1,500 a pop to test each rape kit, the expense and backlog of tests prohibit some police departments from testing the kits as often as they should. In fact, records obtained from 800 police agencies reveal that they are storing more than 70,000 untested rape kits. The failure to test these kits in a timely manner result in criminals going free.
Congress recently approved $41 million in grants to assist police departments in clearing rape kit backlogs. However, evidence shows that much of these funds are not reaching local and state police authorities where the stored test kits could be tested and the backlog program reduced. Scott Berkowitz, president of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network stated that the current issue is not the amount of federal funding, but that it is not reaching the intended targets. Over the past 10 years, nearly $1.2 billion has been allocated towards addressing the country’s DNA testing needs, including the taking of inventory and testing of sexual assault kits. However, many of these funds have been spent on more general DNA testing improvements and administrative expenses.
In cases of rape, one break in the case can have exponential effects. For example, Laura Neuman was raped at gunpoint when she was 18 years old. Her rape kit sat on the shelf for years and the crime went unsolved for 19 years. Finally, Neuman insisted that police reopen the case and just days later, fingerprints resulted in the arrest of her rapist. If Neuman’s rape kit was tested right after her attack, countless women could have been saved from being brutally raped. In fact, police obtained fingerprint matches on 12 more cases, cases that never would have been solved if Neuman had not persisted that her case be reopened.
The very least agencies can do is test the rape kits that are invasively collected from rape victims after being attacked. These rape kits have the power to provide evidence identifying unknown assailants, exonerate the wrongly accused and confirm the accounts of rape victims.