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.