While law enforcement officers are more diligent than ever about collecting forensic evidence in rape investigations, they often still lack the financial resources to ensure rape kits are tested in a timely fashion. According to some estimates, hundreds of thousands of untested kits remain in police and crime lab storage facilities nationwide. This means that justice for rape victims, if it is ever granted, is often delayed.
One example is the 55,000 rape kits recently tested thanks to grants from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office. Those tests led to 165 prosecutions and 64 convictions. But more could be done.
Money for Testing
Beginning in 2015, Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., has granted $38 million the city collected in forfeiture money to help other jurisdictions test rape kits. New York had already cleared its own backlog, so it decided to share illegal proceeds seized from international banks to assist other struggling jurisdictions.
“The initiative has paid to get about 55,000 rape kits tested in 32 law enforcement agencies in 20 states,” according to the New York Times, “among them the police departments in Las Vegas, Philadelphia, Miami, Memphis, Austin, Tex., and Kansas City, Mo.” Almost 20 percent matched DNA profiles already in the FBI’s nationwide database. As the Times noted:
In Memphis, the police exhumed the body of Robert Brasher, a hardened criminal from Missouri who had killed himself to avoid capture, and tied him to eight sexual assaults in three states, including three that ended in murder. The key to solving those cases was an untested rape kit from a 14-year-old girl attacked in 1997 that was found to match Mr. Brasher’s DNA profile.
In Georgia, evidence collected in 2003 from a woman who was raped at gunpoint in a park was finally tested and led the police to Dandre Shabazz, who has since been linked to 14 sexual assaults committed between 2001 and 2005. Mr. Shabazz, who was already in prison for robbery, was charged with rape in April in Fulton County.
Rights and Rape Kits
The new focus on the rape kit backlog and sexual assault victims’ rights has resulted in federal and state efforts to fund testing and give victims access to the information in their rape kits. Contact a local attorney today for information about your rights as a sexual assault victim.