Cities Across The U.S. Are Beginning to Wade Through Rape Kit Backlog


The horrifically astronomical number of untested rape kits nationwide is starting to recede, according to a report by BBC News.

Following a 2009 discovery of more than 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in a Detroit warehouse, prosecutors in Detroit have finally begun to make headway with help from a $35 million rape kit testing program initiated by Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the Manhattan district attorney (the push for testing backlogged rape kits began in New York City, which tested 17,000 kits between 1999 and 2003); 2,000 kits have been tested so far, producing warrants for 23 alleged rapists and convictions for 14.

Detroit is just one of many cities a attempting to eliminate their backlog. Cleveland has submitted its entire 4,300-kit backlog for testing, spurring more than 1,800 investigations; Memphis, halfway through its 12,000 kits, has opened 243 investigations with 36 indictments so far. Although rape kit testing is notoriously expensive—costing between $500 and $1500 per—another significant impetus for the national backlog is, unsurprisingly, a victim-blaming mentality within police ranks. According to the BBC, in an interview with Michigan State University researcher Dr. Rebecca Campbell:

Looking back at those police files, Campbell says, there was a “widespread” attitude of not believing the victim, and only doing minimum investigation on the cases, many just including the initial police report.

According to Sarah Tofte of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which is helping to run the testing initiative:

Police and prosecutors across the US have “struggled to adopt a really comprehensive approach to rape investigations,” including failing to do a thorough investigation on the suspect instead of simply scrutinising the victim’s report.

“For me the worst case scenario is we run the profile of a number of these kits and we find out we got a serial rapist … but he hasn’t been caught ever,” says Tammy Kemp, a Dallas prosecutor. Even if attitudes change, the BBC notes, money is still tight. According to Sgt Amy Millis, who runs the sex crimes unit in Dallas, “This is an extremely expensive endeavor,” requiring “additional investigators, additional court personnel, prosecutors…advocates and counselors to help people who are reopening old wounds.”

Beginning next year, Michigan will join California, Texas and Illinois as states that require testing of every single sexual assault kit.

Image via r.gallegos08/Flickr

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