Under Pressure, Cities Investigate Backlog of Rape Cases

Hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the United States have remained untested for years, leaving many rape victims feeling anxious and betrayed by the justice system and increasing the likelihood that serial rapists will remain at large. Experts claim the failure to process rape kits, which contain physical evidence such as DNA collected from victims after a rape, is due to financial limitations and an “uncaring and haphazard” police response to investigating sexual assault cases. However, pressure is growing to address the backlog, as new investigations into "cold cases" start yielding results.

For example, recent analysis of 1600 of 11,000 warehoused rape kits in the city of Detroit revealed hundreds of suspects, including 87 rapists who had attacked multiple women. In Memphis, police allegedly mis-handled several rapes committed by the same man over a ten-year period. The mayor has since announced plans to test all new rape kits and is requesting millions of dollars in federal, state and private aid to test at least 12,000 kits still in storage. According to the mayor, each kit "represents a victim hoping for justice." Other cities such as Cleveland have decided to test old kits and have established specialized teams to investigate the assaults. 

However, significant challenges remain in addressing the extensive backlog of untested kits, many of which date back 20 years or more. "[B]ecause many cities have resisted looking too hard or have even destroyed untested kits over time, the extent of the problem is unknown,” according to Sarah Tofte, director of policy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, as reported in the New York Times. Additionally, others including the mayor of Memphis, have stressed the need to transform police culture regarding sexual violence that many argue contributed to the current backlog of rape kits.

 

Compiled from: Eckholm, Erik, No Longer Ignored, Evidence Solves Rape Cases Years Later, The New York Times (August 2, 2014).