Wednesday, November 11, 2009

In 2009, Louisiana has untested rape kits from 2001

Yesterday I wrote about legislation introduced recently that is meant to alleviate the backlog of rape kits in this country, and encourage states to get them tested. Here's why this is so important (source: CBS):
A five-month CBS News investigation of 24 cities and states has found more than 6,000 rape kits from active investigations waiting months, even years to be tested.

On average, six months in Rhode Island, Alabama and Illinois. It can take nearly a year in Missouri. Up to three years in Anchorage, Alaska. One state, Louisiana, has rape kits dating as far back as 2001 waiting to be tested.
And that is important because ...
Sen. Patrick Leahy says it wasn't supposed to be this way. In 2003, he co-sponsored federal legislation allocating three-quarters of a billion dollars to clear the rape kit backlog. But still delays remain. "If they don't catch the person on this rape, they are going to commit another one," Leahy said.

That's what David Lisak found. An expert on rape at the University of Massachusetts, he says research shows that 71 percent of rapists are repeat offenders.
I knew from past reports and reading on the subject that the backlog of rape kits was a problem. I did not know that some places still have rape kits from 2001 waiting to be tested.

We're talking active criminal investigations here. I want to be clear on this. A woman is raped and (is one of the few who) actually reports it, and has a rape kit done. (Not clear on what a rape kit is? It collects evidence and is done by a medical professional. Fingernail scrappings, hair, semen, mouth swabs, etc. are collected, and photos can be taken at that time too.) She reports the rape and hopes the justice system will work for her ... only to find out that the rape kit she submitted to has been sitting around in a lab for a year (or longer!) while the rapist is walking around, free. That is what is going on.

Here's a sadly perfect example, also from the CBS story:
"We had a sense that there were perpetrators out there who were not being followed up on," said Steve Redding. He's a county attorney in Minneapolis, and started digging through old cases where the victim didn't know her attacker, and for one reason or another, the kits were never tested. He sent 35 kits to the lab. Patterns emerged. A case from 1998 matched DNA from a 2007 case.

"Do I think that the person has not committed any sexual assaults in between those nine years," Redding asked? "Not in my life as a prosecutor for 30 years.

In the end, Redding got DNA matches on eight of the 35 cases, charging all eight with rapes.
Curious to know what the situation is in your city or state? Check these CBS lists of many locations. It's pretty horrific. A number of locations don't even know how many untested kits they have.

CBS has a whole series of stories about rape that were published this week. Definitely worth reading the above links and "Rape in America: Justice denied," which itself includes a number of useful links, such as FBI stats, RAINN help, date rape myths and more.

Given all this, I think it's worth picking up a phone or sending an e-mail to your representatives and urging them to pass the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 legislation. Find contact information for your Senators here, and for your House representative here or here.

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