What is the Backlog?

When tested, DNA evidence contained inside rape kits can be an incredibly powerful tool to solve and prevent crime. It can identify an unknown assailant and confirm the presence of a known suspect. It can affirm the survivor's account of the attack and discredit the suspect. It can connect the suspect to other crime scenes. It can exonerate innocent suspects.

To accomplish these things, however, rape kits must be tested. 

In the past, the federal government estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police and crime storage facilities across the country in what is known as the rape kit backlog. Each kit represents a lost opportunity to bring healing and justice to a survivor of sexual violence.  

We cannot be sure of the total number of untested kits nationwide because most jurisdictions do not have systems for tracking or counting rape kits. Only three states—Illinois, Texas and Colorado—require law enforcement agencies to count, track and test their untested kits. There is no federal law mandating a nationwide movement toward tracking and testing rape kits, despite efforts by some members of Congress to pass such legislation.

Jurisdictions often cite lack of resources and personnel as the largest barrier to processing more rape kits. Another, less frequently acknowledged, cause of the backlog is unwillingness among many law enforcement agencies to prioritize and dedicate sufficient resources to sexual assault cases. Members of law enforcement frequently disbelieve or even blame victims of sexual assault. Despite data proving otherwise, many agencies also maintain the philosophy that testing a rape kit is only useful when a stranger committed the assault. Some do not fully understand the value of rape kit testing

Over the years, however, we have begun to see progress. Increasingly, states and local jurisdictions are beginning to recognize the value of testing rape kits. They are starting to count, track and test the untested kits in their facilities, and they’re seeing powerful results. For example, in New York City, where there had been a backlog of 17,000 untested rape kits before it was eliminated in 2003, city and law enforcement officials enacted a policy and developed a system to test every rape kit. The city’s arrest rate for rape has since jumped from 40% to 70%.

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