The Rape Kit Story We Don't Want To Read Anymore

Another day, another story about thousands of rape kits lying untested, this time throughout Texas. After years of decrying these lapses, will anything be done to ensure justice? One major activist is actually optimistic that this year will bring change.

The story from the The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit whose work is syndicated in The New York Times, follows the basic pattern of the untested rape kit investigations that have popped up over the past few years (in fact, here's another recent one about Houston alone). Rape victims submit to invasive, time-consuming collections of physical evidence on their person and clothing. And then nothing happens, mostly due to lack of resources, lax policies, or mismanagement (but lack of resources and prioritizing is a big one). This is a nationwide problem — let's recap the numbers cited in a recent Marie Claire story:

Number of rape kits estimated to be untested nationwide: 180,000.
Number of unsolved rapes of the past five years: 150,070.

That said, sometimes these investigations help light a fire under legislators. In Texas, "Senator Wendy Davis, Democrat of Fort Worth, is preparing a bill that would require police departments to test all rape kits in their possession and every one they get in the future."

That's what makes Sarah Tofte, who as a Human Rights Watch researcher did incredible work on this issue, optimistic. She wrote in December,

I am predicting that 2011 will be a year of unprecedented reform of the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States. Given the movement we saw in 2010 — communities came together to advocate for reform, several cities and one state enacted sweeping policy changes, and the White House announced a new federal initiative — this is one prediction that could very well come true.

We hope she's right. In addition to noting promising moves in Cleveland, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Detroit, Tofte also singles out New York City's policy of testing every rape kit booked into evidence, leading the arrest rate to jump from 40 to 70 percent.

Incidentally, this latest round of stories comes just as New York extradites serial killer and rapist Rodney Alcala, already on death row in California, to try him for the murders of two New York women in the 1970s. (He was called "The Dating Game Killer" because he appeared as Bachelor #1 on that show — now, it seems, after he murdered two women, and before he raped and murdered five other women and girls.) Among the evidence the NYPD used to indict him decades later (although old-fashioned detective work also appears to have been involved): DNA. It's not the fix for every unsolved case of stranger rape — itself only a small portion of all rapes committed — but it's one of the best tools we've got.

Thousands of Rape Kits Sit Untested for Decades, but Change Would Be Costly [NYT]
Rodney Alcala Murdered 2 Women Here Before He Was TV's 'Bachelor No. 1,' DNA and New Evidence Indicate [Village Voice]
2011: The Year of National Rape Kit Backlog Reform [HP]
Earlier: Meet Sarah Tofte, Death Penalty Researcher Turned Rape Kit Activist
The Shocking Numbers On Untested Rape Kits
Rape Kits Hold The Key To Closure