Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | 1,016 day ago

Thousands Of Rape Cases Reopened As Untested Rape Kits Found In Warehouses Across America

The Debrief: Why aren’t all rape kits tested? Why have so many been discarded in storerooms?

Five years ago, police found 11,000 untested rape kits stored in a warehouse in Detroit. After a cash injection, cities all over America have begun working through their backlog of untested evidence – with new hope for hundreds of thousands of rape victims who never saw justice served. Oh, and the law that makes it compulsory that all sexual assault kits be tested – regardless of the circumstances – will next year be enforced in Michigan (California, Texas and Illinois all currently enforce this).  

After a grant from the National Institute of Justice, prosecutors and police were able to start reopening the cases in Detroit and have, so far, worked through 2,000 and are in the process of testing another 8,000. So far, there have been 750 DNA matches, warrants issued for 23 alleged rapists (14 are convicted, and three await trial). On top of this, they’re now able to identify 188 potential serial rapists who have committed crimes in other states.

And it’s not just Michigan. This has spurred police departments across America to look into the potentially hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits that are just lying there in storage. Cleveland, for example, has reopened 1,800 cases and Houston has submitted 6,600 for testing. 

The weird thing is – New York did this ages ago, and despite great results, it didn’t spur anyone else on. According to a BBC report, many police departments across America don’t test kits in non-stranger rape cases where consent – rather than identifying the suspect – is the main issue. Which is obviously horrifying. Rape kits were also apparently not sent for testing when victims who made the report decided not to pursue prosecution or could not be found again – but there are a fair few examples of police not exactly trying hard to get in touch. And not really investigating the cases particularly thoroughly.

‘You have capacity and ability, and yet jurisdictions were not sending their rape kits in for testing,’ Sarah Tofte from the Joyful Heart Foundation told the BBC. ‘It’s really shown many jurisdictions how many initial assessments they made were not the correct ones. It always surprises me a little bit when they're always so sure exactly what is in that rape kit backlog.’

Other experts agree that there was no rational reason not to pursue the hundreds of thousands of rape cases left in storerooms – with some suggesting it was down to a widespread attitude of not believing the victim. Another reason is funding, ‘This is an extremely expensive endeavour,’ says Sgt Amy Mills of the Dallas sex crimes assault unit in Texas. She mentions the costs of testing the kits, as well as ‘additional investigators, additional court personnel, prosecutors… advocates and counsellors to help people who are reopening old wounds’.

After all, an entire new investigation has to be launched – which should have been launched in the first place – which is, on top of the current cases, a lot of work for the force. But it needs to be sorted, and new jobs need to be created, and funding needs to be pumped into this for the sake of the victims left in the lurch for years and years. 

‘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,’ Tammy Kemp, a Dallas prosecutor about to be put in charge of the Dallas backlog said. ‘So, we’ll have a number of women who may have been raped by the same person, but we still don't know what his identity is.’

Terrifying to think that this has been going on for years and that rape cases can be so easily disregarded. Here’s hoping that other states follow Michigan, Texas, Illinois and California’s lead. 

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Tags: Around The World, Rape