Approximately 321,500 people are victims of sexual assault in the U.S. each year, and those who are victims of assault often opt to be tested for DNA evidence, which can be used to identify and incarcerate rapists. These DNA tests are often stored in what are referred to as “rape kits” (also known as Sexual Assault Evidence Kits), which include things like DNA swabs, blood samples, combs, and more. These kits are vital to proving crimes like rape occur, which is more than necessary in a nation where less than 1% of rapists are incarcerated.
In a society where most of us believe rape is one of the most heinous crimes, one would think that these kits would be a priority. However, in places like Florida, Georgia, Ohio, and Texas, over 10,000 rape kits remain untested. Overloads in untested kits are often referred to as backlogs. These backlogs occur in almost every state, and in other states, no data has been taken to find out how many. This is especially horrifying when you know that many states have a statute of limitations on rape, so when rape kits go untested for long periods of time, many rapists walk free. Furthermore, not all states have laws that allow victims to be notified about the status of their rape kit. View the status of your state or area’s potential back log here.
So why is this even happening? The causes of these backlogs are usually driven by a lack of knowledge and protocols regarding rape kits and lack of prioritization of victims. In many areas and states, there is a lack of protocol surrounding the testing of kits. Law enforcement often does not respond to sexual assault victims with the level of urgency they do when other crimes occur. Furthermore, some law enforcement professionals will not opt to have rape kits tested because they believe the victims are lying, due to poor understanding of victim behavior. On the other hand, there are many areas where law enforcement officers are eager to help victims, but they lack the funding and resources to process kits.
Some states, however, have made efforts to reduce their backlogs. Several states have began audits, requiring law enforcement to record the number of rape kits there are in their state- surely, the first step towards providing solutions. Other states have made the crucial decision to mandate testing of all kits within a certain time frame, and some state and local governments have begun funding to test kits. There are also many local communities where law enforcement, law makers, and private organizations have worked together to increase funding and support for the testing of rape kits.
As usual, you can play a part in inspiring change. Not enough people are aware of this issue, so educate! Research the status of kits in your area and state, and write to your representative about your position on this issue. Furthermore, you can donate to organizations like End the Backlog and The Joyful Heart Foundation, which work with communities to help survivors and relieve backlogs.
If you had time to read this article, you have time to make a difference. Look into how this issue is affecting people near you and what you can do to help. We do not have time to be outraged when we can be finding solutions.