How bad is the problem of rape kits going untested? We don't even know how many are lying around on police department shelves. Several groups in New York have teamed up to put an end to the rape kit backlog, and their first step is to finally get an idea of what they're dealing with.
Natasha Alexenko, founder of the Long Island-based group Natasha's Justice Project, tells the Associated Press that she believe there could be as many as 180,000 untested rape kits in the country. According to a recent study by the Justice Department, there's no accurate count because 43% of law enforcement agencies don't even have a computerized system for keeping track of forensic evidence. It's possible that some departments are losing track of the kits after rape victims go through the lengthy and invasive evidence collection process. Sometimes the kits aren't tested if the victim says she knows her attacker, but lack of resources is believed to be the main reason the rape kit backlog exists. DNA analysis can cost $800 to $1,500 per kit.
Today Alexenko announced that her organization has enlisted the help of Stony Brook University researchers and the consulting firm Strategic Planning to determine exactly how many untested rape kits there are, and how to best tackle the problem. Tia Palermo, assistant professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook, says:
"Anecdotal evidence suggests that the rape kit backlog is large, but reliable estimates on the extent of the problem are nonexistent ... We aim to survey prosecutors, police departments and medical examiners across the nation to quantify the problem and identify best practices in an effort to better inform policies and procedures."
Alexenko is all too familiar with the consequences of the backlog. When she was 19, she was raped and sodomized at gunpoint in her Manhattan apartment building, and her attacker was only apprehended 10 years later when her rape kit was finally tested. While not every kit will lead to an arrest, it's maddening to think there are potentially thousands of rapists on the loose simply because evidence was never processed. The existence of the backlog is shameful, and hopefully this new analysis will lead to a plan to put an end to it.
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