RCASA’s Wednesday Outreach: Virginia Leads The Way In The Elimination of Rape Kit Backlog

In Advocacy, Outreach, Sexual Assault Awareness on July 28, 2010 at 12:41 pm

90,000 women reported they were raped in the United States last year. It’s estimated another 75,000 rapes went unreported. But while rape convictions are up questions have been raised  about just how many rapists are actually being brought to justice.

Despite advancements in DNA identification and forensic technology, it still remains difficult to prosecute rape crimes.

Rape in this country is surprisingly easy to get away with. The arrest rate last year was just 25 percent – a fraction of the rate for murder – 79 percent, and aggravated assault – 51 percent.

A five month CBS News Investigation has found a staggering number of rape kits — that could contain incriminating DNA evidence — have never been sent to crime labs for testing.

Police departments say rape kits don’t get tested due to cost – up to $1,500 a kit — a decision not to prosecute, and victims who recant or are unwilling to move forward with a case.

In New York City, prosecutors are very aggressive – testing every rape kit, even in cases of acquaintance rape – over 1,300 last year alone. The results are stunning. Today New York City’s arrest rate for rape is 70 percent – triple the national average. Testing kits in acquaintance cases can tie suspects to other attacks.

Nearly a decade ago, the Justice Department launched a $600 million effort to eliminate the backlog of untested DNA evidence sitting in crime labs and police departments nationwide. But at the same time, the Justice Department, along with Congress and state legislatures, began a push to have law enforcement collect more DNA, including from people convicted for nonviolent crimes— or simply arrested for — nonviolent crimes, including shoplifting. Because of these changes, underfunded and understaffed crime labs are now flooded with DNA samples. At least 350,000 DNA samples from murder and rape cases remain untested, according to the federal government’s best estimates.

Virginia’s government was among the first to require DNA samples from arrestees and has no arrestee sample backlog. Advocates for expanded DNA testing point to the Virginia lab as a model: a lab that can handle samples from wide swaths of the population where the arrestee samples are prioritized so they can be analyzed before a suspect is released. Its case backlog includes several dozen cases in a Virginia post-conviction DNA testing project that involves decades-old evidence. The program’s goal  is to identify people who may have been wrongfully convicted.

The lab doesn’t have a target date for eliminating the backlog.  The lab is working consistently to minimize the number of cases affected so they can best serve the citizens of the Commonwealth.


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