There has been a flurry of reports in the news recently about the steps several cities across the country have taken to eliminate their rape kit backlogs. These cities are in varying stages of analyzing their untested kits and re-engaging the survivors whose kits were part of the backlog. Two of the cities are located in states—Illinois and Texas—that have passed legislation requiring the testing of all rape kits booked into evidence. The others are located in Ohio, where the Attorney General has encouraged law enforcement agencies to test all kits.
Here are a few highlights of their progress:Robbins, Illinois
CBS Chicago reports that police in Robbins, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago, recently discovered 51 rape kits that had never been sent for testing. Some of the kits dated as far back as 1986. The Cook County Sheriff’s Office is now working to process this backlog because Robbins lacks the resources to do so.
According to the Robbins Police Department, they did not test the kits because the victims either recanted or declined to press charges. This is difficult to verify, however, because a flood in the basement of the Department destroyed the statements that would normally accompany the kits. That being the More >
A corrections officer in Illinois has been charged with sexually assaulting a 10-year-old child in 1997 after a rape kit that was part of a backlog in Harvey, Illinois was finally tested. The case is another powerful and deeply troubling example that every untested rape kit represents the failure to bring justice to a survivor and to protect the public.
The victim submitted to a sexual assault evidence collection–or rape kit–exam in August of 1997 after reporting numerous instances of being sexual assaulted by her step-father, Robert Buchanan. Buchanan was questioned but never charged by the Harvey Police Department and went on to serve as a corrections officer in a local jail for over a decade.
This kit was one of 200 untested rape kits that the Cook County State’s Attorney office, the sheriff’s office and the Illinois State Police recovered in a 2007 raid, according to various news agencies, including NBC, CBS, ABC, the Chicago Tribune and The Huffington Post.
Under the 2010 Illinois Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act, the first of two state-wide laws in the country that mandate law enforcement to track and test all rape kits, the Illinois State Police (ISP) was required to collect data on all untested rape More >
Polly Poskin, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, took some time to speak with me about her work to end sexual violence in Illinois, the progress on there on the rape kit backlog and the culture of violence against women. Her words were incredibly informed and powerful and this transcript hardly seems to do them justice. We are pleased to be sharing this interview with you today.
Sarah Tofte: Polly, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. Let’s talk a bit about how you got interested in working on violence against women issues.
Polly Poskin: In college, I focused on women’s history for my graduate degree. That was a time when we were learning about the women’s movement. So much of the focus was improving access to education, improving employment opportunities and expanding daycare. And we got into reproductive rights. Our women’s movement focused on educational opportunities for women, equal pay, child-bearing and child-caring issues and the right of a woman to control her body. We never talked about domestic violence and rape. I wasn’t aware of those More >
A young woman, Stephanie (not her real name), came to see me in my New York office. She had been raped in Chicago two years earlier, and had heard from an advocate there for rape victims that I was writing a report on untested DNA evidence from rape cases in Illinois. I took her for coffee so we could get to know each other before I interviewed her, and we talked about her teaching job, her move to New York City and my new son.
Then, in the middle of our introduction to one another, Stephanie said: “After this experience, I don’t feel safe anymore. I am a tough girl, but it made me feel like if something happened, the law isn’t there for me. It doesn’t really work.”
Stephanie was talking about the fact that the DNA evidence, known as a “rape kit”—collected over a period of hours in the emergency room with medical personnel examining her entire body—had never been tested. Her rapist had never been interviewed by the police or arrested. And now, two years later, she was trying to come More >