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Jan 08 2013

Half a Million Rape Kits Not Examined

A few years ago, the state of Michigan shut down the Detroit Police Department crime lab because of serious problems and it was soon discovered that there were thousands of rape kits piled up there that had never been examined. Turns out this is a nationwide problem, with as many as a half a million of those kits unexamined to this day.

Four to five hundred thousand. That is the estimated number of untested rape kits sitting in police evidence storage facilities and crime labs across the United States, according to Human Rights Watch, federal government experts, and countless advocates in many fields working to solve the problem of the nation’s backlog of untested rape kits – all 400,000 to 500,000 of them.

While the numbers are estimates, they are nonetheless staggering when considering how many women are waiting – often years, for their rape kits to be analyzed.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and media investigative reports have found rape kits in many jurisdictions nationwide, including:

1,100 in Albuquerque
2,100 in Birmingham
1,200 in Cincinnati
5,600 in Detroit
3,800 in Houston
4,000 across the state of Illinois
12,500 in Los Angeles
16,000 in New York City (c. 2003; now eliminated)
4,100 in Phoenix
1,050 across the state of Rhode Island
11,100 in San Antonio

In every one of those cases, there is a victim without a hint of justice and a rapist walking around free. And if those kits were processed, it would mean a big increase in convictions:

In New York City, where the rape kit backlog has been eliminated, its arrest rate for rape jumped from 40% to 70%. Testing its backlog resulted in over 200 prosecutions of cold cases.

The national arrest rate for rape stands at 24%, according to the FBI and Human Rights Watch (HRW). This is the same rate from 30 years ago.

Analyzing the DNA evidence in a rape kit can help identify an unknown perpetrator, confirm the presence of a known assailant, corroborate the victim’s account of the rape, and exonerate innocent defendants, says Endthebacklog.com. Testing also works to move more cases through the system.

And help bring justice and healing to the survivor of sexual assault. But not before a victim endures potentially more trauma on top of the crime that was already committed.

In Detroit, they’ve been slowly working their way through the backlog, but this takes resources. A lot of resources. And it’s time for the legislatures, state and federal, to step up with the funding necessary to get every single one of these kits examined.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    erichoug

    Sorry, but police resources are far better spend going after pot dealers and prostitutes rather than wasting time on something as trivial as trying to convict rapists.

    OK, and before I hear it, yes that was snark!

    Why is it that so many large cities have narcotics and vice units with nearly bottomless budgets but they can’t even seem to come up with the resources to process these rape kits. Criminal justice in this country is ridiculous and not getting better.

  2. 2
    Jackie

    Eric, be careful. You almost admitted rape culture was a real thing. Talk like that and soon the Dudebro brigade with come around to accuse you of misandry.

  3. 3
    iknklast

    Eric @1:

    And not just that – ticket scalpers. I once knew a ticket scalper who got arrested several times a year, paid a fine, and walked out to scalp tickets again. It’s a scam – get your fines paid, so the city can get the money. City doesn’t get money from prosecuting rapists.

    Ticket scalping is just free market in action (I don’t love the concept, but the people being ‘robbed’ are usually willing victims. They want the ticket, the scalper wants the money, and is willing to part a fool and his money to get it – free market on steroids). It’s all about supply and demand.

    Rape, on the other hand, is, by definition, non-consensual. It is tramatic. Someone gets hurt, and may be scarred for life. Yet we go after victimless crimes, “crimes” between consenting adults, rather than waste time and resources on rape. Again, rape doesn’t bring money to the city (though you’d think a lot of unsolved rapes, with the rapists still walking around free, would have a negative impact on the city in terms of attracting business and new residents. I guess they just don’t make that particularly known).

  4. 4
    crowepps

    Why is it that so many large cities have narcotics and vice units with nearly bottomless budgets

    Drug Asset Seizure and Forfeiture

    http://cad.sagepub.com/content/42/3/421.short

  5. 5
    baal

    That’s a staggering back log. The numbers are something like 5% of rapists account for 80% of the rapes. In other words, each rape kit represents more than one rape and those rapes are the worst offenders. We’re not focusing resources on analysis and prosecuting them?

  6. 6
    eric

    24% national vs. 70% in a city that fixed its backlog. Wow. Kudos to NYC. Boo, hiss, nation.

    Slightly OT, does it say how these estimates account for plea bargains and cases that never reach court? I am not trying to minimize the problem – this is horrible – but the analyst in me is curious to know how many kits went unanalyzed because other, unrelated events resulted in the kit getting shelved. Stuff like plea bargains or the DA deciding to prosecute an accusted rapist on only one of several crimes.

  7. 7
    Anthony K
    Why is it that so many large cities have narcotics and vice units with nearly bottomless budgets but they can’t even seem to come up with the resources to process these rape kits.

    Drug Asset Seizure and Forfeiture

    http://cad.sagepub.com/content/42/3/421.short

    Also, you don’t get to buy nifty armoured vehicles and other paramilitary toys to fight rapists.

  8. 8
    bornagainatheist

    And yet in some communities dog owners must get their dog’s DNA and put it on file so that when one of the darlings poops on someone’s lawn, the community can test the DNA in the poop and match it to the appropriate dog to find the culprit. Isn’t it nice to know where our priorities lay.?

  9. 9
    Rob Monkey

    Honest to Dog this is really depressing. I’m an analytical chemist slash biologist, and I can tell you these tests are not really expensive or difficult any more, and they’re getting cheaper all the time. Hell, give me a sweet government contract with mountains of work to do and I could knock these numbers down in a year easily, and with actual proper controls and blind studies to boot. This sort of thing is not that fucking hard to do people, and I could probably staff a lab myself with just the scientists I know who’d like a little more work and income in this economy. I don’t care how in debt we are or how much we need to tighten our budgets, this is about the safety and security of the Amurrican people, something I thought both parties could agree was sorta important. Or are the Republicans just waiting for the more definitive rape kit test that includes whether or not the rape was legitimate?

  10. 10
    erichoug

    In his great book “Ain’t Nobodies Business If You Do.” Peter McWilliams points out the asset forfeiture laws as one reason why the war on drugs continues. But, he also spells out a few others. My favorite is where he points out that it is significantly less dangerous to bust potheads and Johns than it is to go after violent criminals which is who they really should be going after.

    If you haven’t read the his book, I would say it’s well worth a look, even if it has been co-opted by douchebag libertarians.

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    The Rape Singularity Is Near -- a Nadder!

    [...] classmates joking about the gang-rape. And while we’re at it, there are about 500,000 unexamined rape kits in the US languishing in rooms because the police can’t or won’t get to [...]

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    We Need to End the Culture of Rape « Nel's New Day

    [...] country has one-half million or more untested kits are stacked up around the country. In Illinois alone, 80 percent of rape [...]

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    The Rape Singularity Is Near | Fail Blue Dot

    […] classmates joking about the gang-rape. And while we’re at it, there are about 500,000 unexamined rape kits in the US languishing in rooms because the police can’t or won’t get to […]

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