Archive for February, 2011
Charles Courtney, Jr., was arrested in Franklin County, Indiana in September 1996, for the knifepoint rape of his wife, Mary Jane, when she told him she wanted a divorce the night he returned from a trip on his job as a long-distance truck driver. Like defendants in many domestic violence cases, Courtney was offered a plea to a lesser charge of sexual battery. As such, his two-year sentence was far lighter than it would have been had he raped a stranger–a sad truth about many rapists whose victims are partners or acquaintances. That conviction earned the government the right to put Courtney’s genetic profile in the FBI’s convicted-offender databank. He was released from prison on January 4, 1998.
Three months later, a 21-year-old woman named Amberly Lakes was kidnapped in a parking lot outside a grocery store in Fairfield, Ohio, and taken to a remote location where her unknown assailant raped her repeatedly at knifepoint. In 2001, Lakes’ case was solved when the evidence preserved during her medical exam after the attack yielded DNA that matched Charles Courtney’s profile. Even though her evidence kit had More >
From news sources national to local to campus-based, the backlog has been receiving a lot of coverage lately. A couple weeks ago, a Georgia high school student named Brittany emailed Joyful Heart to ask for an interview with Sarah Tofte, JHF’s Director of Advocacy & Strategic Partnerships, for an article she was writing for her school newspaper, The Pitchfork.
Whether they are just embarking on their journalistic pursuits or they are award-winning veterans in the field, journalists are crucial to our efforts to end the backlog. Because only one state (Illinois) requires jurisdictions to track their rape kits at the moment, a lot of investigative work must, and has, been done by the media to uncover the nature of backlogs. One of the most important steps in creating a movement–a revolution, even–is raising awareness. Writing articles is a great way to do this, and there are so many resources that can help.
Brittany was kind enough to send along her completed article published in The Pitchfork’s February 18 issue for us to post here on our blog. We thought we’d share it with you.
Can you describe what happened? Did you get a good look? Could you give us a description? These are the hounding questions More >
California Assemblyman Anthony Portantino has introduced legislation in the state government to track and report untested rape kits and set a time limit for labs to process them. From an article on patch.com:
The bill, AB 322…would mandate that rape kits used for DNA testing be sent by law enforcement agencies to a lab within 30 days, and be processed within six months. Agencies would also have to send regular reports on the number of unprocessed rape kits to the [California] Department of Justice that would be also be available to the public.
Portantino, a strong advocate of rape kit reform, has introduced similar legislation in the past, which passed in the legislature both times, but was vetoed by then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger who cited a lack of available time and money on the part of law enforcement. From the press release issued by Portantino’s office:
“It’s unconscionable that thousands of rape kits remain unopened and untested across California,” stated Portantino. “Rape kits hold vital evidence that is crucial to a criminal conviction, while the clock is ticking on the statute of limitation for these crimes. It’s frustrating to know that a rapist could be walking free and a victim who suffered is further disrespected because a vital More >
The rape kit backlog has received quite a bit of press in the past weeks thanks to a great article by Brandi Grissom in The Texas Tribune. Grissom reports that about 16,000 kits are sitting untested in Houston. Over in San Antonio, the backlog is estimated to be between 5,200 and 11,500 kits, according to several CBS reports, while in Dallas, KDAF reported that officials estimated that the number of untested kits there could be as high as 10,000.
From The Texas Tribune article:
In police departments across Texas, tens of thousands of rape kits have been sitting on the shelves of property storage rooms for years, the result of strained budgets, overworked crime labs and a law enforcement philosophy that rape kits are primarily useful as evidence if a stranger committed the assault.
Officials in Texas have been struggling to find short-term solutions to its backlog for years. In 2009, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported that the Dallas PD decided to suspend testing of cold-case rape kits to prioritize testing more recent cases. About a year ago, the Houston Chronicle reported that the City Council in Houston had approved $4.2 in contracts with four private labs to help the struggling HDP crime lab. In November 2009, the San Antonio More >
As many of you have heard, the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) announced this week that they have ended their “historic” rape kit backlog of 6,132 kits, resulting in at least 300 new arrests. This is a significant milestone in the work to reform rape kit testing in Los Angeles city.
For the past three years, advocates in Los Angeles and nationally have worked together to end the LAPD’s rape kit backlog, and the news this week that the historic backlog has been tested is an accomplishment that sets up Los Angeles to be considered a model for the rest of the country.
Joyful Heart is pleased to have played a part in this reform along with a number of local and national organizations including Peace Over Violence, the UCLA-Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center and Human Rights Watch. Last year, we placed calls and wrote letters to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa and then-Los Angeles Police Chief William Bratton to encourage them to find the resources necessary to outsource all of the testing of the historic backlog, increase crime lab staff, and better track rape kit testing results. When Law & Order: SVU featured the rape kit backlog in the third episode of its twelfth More >