What’s Being Done About the Backlog of Rape Kits in America

What’s Being Done About the Backlog of Rape Kits in America

Author’s Note: This article discusses sexual assault.

One of the greatest issues facing our generation today is sexual assault. A recent survey of students at 27 universities conducted by the Association of American Universities found that more than 20% of female undergraduates reported that they were victims of sexual assault and misconduct.

When someone experiences the horror of a sexual assault, one of the last things they want to do is get poked and prodded by a medical examiner. Unfortunately, this is what has to happen to ensure that they receive the appropriate medical care they need and to collect evidence. The findings of this exam are put into what is often referred to as a “rape kit.” This includes material for blood samples, envelopes of any specimens that might contain DNA, and any documentation collected during the exam.

After the survivor goes through this intrusive procedure, they have the option of deciding whether they want to report the crime. The kit is stored until the survivor makes a decision, and should that person decide to report, it will be used as evidence in the case.

So by this point, the survivor has experienced a sexual assault, relived the experience during the exam, and now has to choose whether to go to the police. As if this all isn’t traumatic enough, even if this person does decide to report the assault, the kit is likely to sit untested for years. This means that the survivor cannot receive justice and that the attacker is able to walk free. Often times, even if the kit does get tested, the statute of limitations has already run out so that charges can’t be pressed.

The reason for this is simply that testing a rape kit can cause upwards of $1,000, and many jurisdictions just don’t have the money for it. Back in March, Vice President Joe Biden announced a plan to change this. The federal government pledged to dedicate $41 million on a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). Combined with a contribution of $38 million from the city of New York, they predict that 70,000 rape kits will be tested in 27 states.

Two weeks ago, Biden and Attorney General Loretta Lynch announced that the recipients of the funds will be those jurisdictions with the largest backlogs. For example, the Georgia State Criminal Justice Coordinating Council will receive nearly $2 million to test approximately 3,108 kits.

This is a huge step forward in achieving justice for the far too many survivors of sexual assault. It is appalling to think that a rapist could walk free for years while proof of their crime is sitting in a crime lab untested because of lack of funds.

Sexual assault survivors face too many barriers when they are simply trying to report a heinous crime, and this contributes to the vast number of assaults that go unreported. Initiatives like this one will make it easier for victims to find justice, which will hopefully encourage others to report their assaults as well.

Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.