Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. When the victim reports the assault to the police, a hospital, or a rape crisis center, a medical professional conducts an exhaustive and invasive four to six-hour examination of the victim’s body for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker.
During the examination, the examiner collects and preserves evidence in a sexual assault evidence—or rape—kit. DNA is an incredibly powerful tool for law enforcement. When tested, DNA evidence can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, discredit the suspect, connect the suspect to other crime scenes to identify serial offenders, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. Testing rape kits for DNA evidence can both solve and prevent crimes; however, many of these kits are never tested.
The rape kit backlog is a term used to refer to untested rape kits stored by law enforcement agencies and crime labs nationwide. Because most jurisdictions do not have systems for tracking or counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number of untested kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities around the country. However, experts estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of untested kits nationwide.
The backlog of untested rape kits represents a failure of the criminal justice system to take sexual assault seriously, prioritize the testing of rape kits, protect survivors, and hold offenders accountable. There are several key contributing factors that create a backlog, including: a lack of policies or protocols for rape kit testing, knowledge gaps and lack of training, and lack of resources.
Backlogged kit testing policies should include:
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