I’ve written many times about the thousands of rape kits that were found in a Detroit police crime lab, kits that had never been analyzed at all. Some progress is being made on getting through that backlog and it is producing important results, identifying more than 100 rapists.
Back in 2009, over 11,000 kits were found abandoned in a Detroit Police storage facility. After processing just 1,600 of them so far, Detroit has identified about 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists. Those perpetrators have moved on from Michigan to commit similar crimes in 23 other states.
Of course, Detroit is not alone. Nationwide, there are an estimated400,000 untested rape kits. One of our favorite actress/activists Law and Order: SVU’s Mariska Hargitay (read her Feministing Five interview here) has been raising awareness about this issue for awhile now. Her organization, The Joyful Heart Foundation, has launched a project called End The Backlog to pressure cities and states to prioritize testing their kits. (She’s also producing adocumentary about the problem.) And thankfully, 17 states have proposed new legislation to address their backlogs…
Of course, the most urgent and concrete reason we should be testing rape kits is that they can identify rapists. (That’s kinda the point.) And since most rapists are serial rapists, that helps prevent future assaults. The stats from Detroit are similar to those in other cities and states that have tackled their backlogs: Once New York City processed its 17,000-kit backlog in 2001, the arrest rate for rape cases jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent. After working through 2,000 untested kits, Ohio has found nearly 200 matches with DNA in a criminal database.
President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget includes $35 million to speed up this process of clearing the rape kit backlog. We can only hope Congress will pass it.