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 >
The Quad-City Times recently reported that there are 671 untested rape kits sitting in storage at the police department in Davenport, Iowa; some have been there since the 1990s. Of the 47 rape kits collected in Davenport in 2012, police sent only 8 kits to the crime lab. Of the 64 kits collected in 2011, only 12 went to the lab for testing.
When asked about the untested kits, Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez explained, “There are rape kits there that nothing can be done with. If we don’t know the victim, the suspect or the location of the incident, how can we conduct an investigation?”
After undergoing a rape kit examination, which can take between four and six hours, some victims of sexual assault decide not to report the assault to the police. In these instances, the rape kit is sometimes referred to as an “anonymous” or “Jane Doe” kit. To protect the victim’s privacy, the rape kit does not reveal any identifying information. Victims are given a code number they can use to identify themselves if they later choose to report the assault.
How long a police department must store an anonymous kit varies by state and jurisdiction. Under Iowa law, police More >
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) estimates there are 20,000 untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities across the state, according to a January, 3, 2013 article in The New York Times.
In 2011, the Texas state legislature passed a bill requiring law enforcement agencies to count the untested kits in their evidence rooms and report their numbers to DPS. Despite an October 2011 deadline, few agencies complied with the reporting requirement.
To date, approximately 130 of more than 2,600 police agencies have submitted their backlog numbers, including many of the biggest agencies. Among the reporting agencies, there are 15,900 untested rape kits. Based on that number, DPS estimates there to be roughly 20,000 untested kits statewide.
To clear a backlog of that size, DPS believes it will cost between $7 million and $11 million. When the state legislature meets for its 2013 session, it will discuss how to pay for testing. State officials are hopeful that the U.S. Congress will pass the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, which would create a national registry for rape kit evidence and amend current law to require a greater percentage of Debbie Smith Act grant funds be spent directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence. The More >
We just received the incredible news from Texas that Governor Rick Perry has signed a bill into law that makes Texas the second state in the country, after Illinois, to pass significant rape kit reform. The new law, which takes effect September 1, requires all jurisdictions to count and report all untested kits and requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a plan to test every one of them.
Having this legislation passed in Texas represents an enormous milestone in the movement to end the backlog of untested rape kits. A groundswell for reform is happening. We hope that in the coming year, state legislators from around the country will be inspired by the work of their counterparts in Texas and Illinois. Texas has shown that it is possible to enact rape kit reform, giving survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones the opportunity for healing and justice that rape kit testing brings.
You can read more of our coverage of this process here on the Backlog Blog and our op-ed from last month urging the passage of the bill in the Houston Chronicle. We will keep you updated as there is more news about this historic event.More >
Last week, Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation and Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, along with Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle urging Texas lawmakers to pass legislation that calls for all rape kits to be counted and tested.
The bill would require law enforcement to inventory and report the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities by October 2011 and to send all backlogged kits for testing by 2012. In addition, every new rape kit would be sent to a crime lab within 30 days of being booked into police evidence.
Testing kits helps bring perpetrators to justice and sends rapists the message that they will be held accountable for their crimes. And significantly, testing sends rape victims the clear, compassionate and vital message that their cases and their lives matter.
After a victim goes through an exam and agrees to have the kit turned over to the police, the logical assumption is that the evidence collected will be sent to a crime lab for testing. Why else would so much effort, time and extreme discomfort go into collecting the evidence?
But More >