The Nation Tackles Enormous Backlogs of Untested Rape Kits
Across the country, hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested on law enforcement or crime lab warehouses or storage shelves. Rape kits are used to conduct a forensic sexual assault examination following an assault, and contain physical evidence (including swabs hair, photographs, and other detailed information obtained from the victim). DNA evidence contained in a rape kit is essential to the prosecution of the crime. It can identify an unknown rapist or exonerate an innocent suspect; confirm the participation of a known rapist; and connect the rape to other solved or unsolved crimes. Congress has now appropriated $41 million to support states in testing the backlog of rape kits.
Approximately 20 states have passed or proposed legislation to enact a formal procedure for cataloging and testing forensic rape kits. Additionally, the advocacy organization Joyful Heart has begun a nationwide project called www.endthebacklog.org. In addition to shining a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States, one of Joyful Heart’s priorities is to ensure that survivors are notified about the status of their rape kits http://www.endthebacklog.org/information-survivors/victim-notification.
In 2015, the Kentucky General Assembly passed a joint resolution (SJR 20, sponsored by Senator Denise Harper Angel) to require the Auditor of Public Accounts to study the number of rape kits in the possession of Kentucky law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies that have not been sent to the Kentucky State Police forensic laboratory for testing. That search, under the lead of state Auditor Adam Edelen, is underway at this time and is projected to be complete in November 2015.