Editorial from the New York Times on the backlog of untested rape kits in America. My take? You can pay now are pay dearly later:
Respect for Rape Victims
Published: November 13, 2009
A promising bipartisan bill introduced this week in the Senate addresses a stubborn scandal: the enormous backlog of untested rape kits, which contain the physical evidence obtained from sexual assault victims.
In 2004, Congress provided grant money for prompt DNA analysis of this evidence, but the problem persists.
There is no firm national count of the number of untested rape kits. But last March, Human Rights Watch found more than 12,500 untested rape kits in the Los Angeles area alone. The Houston Police Department recently found at least 4,000 untested rape kits in storage. Detroit’s backlog may be as high as 10,000 untested kits.
This week, the National Institute of Justice, a research arm of the Justice Department, released the results of a survey of more than 2,000 state and local law enforcement agencies, including troubling confirmation of languishing rape case evidence. In 18 percent of open, unsolved rape cases, forensic evidence had not been submitted to a crime lab.
This is a huge insult to rape victims, who submit to a lengthy and intrusive process to have the DNA evidence harvested from their bodies. It is also an inexcusable loss for law enforcement and justice. Testing of a rape kit can identify an assailant, corroborate the victim’s account of an assault, exonerate innocent defendants and help prevent a habitual offender from striking again. New York City’s practice of testing every rape kit has paid off in a 70 percent arrest rate for rape that is three times the national average.
The Senate bill would increase the number of trained personnel and further encourage lagging jurisdictions to routinely send all rape kits to crime labs. By requiring annual reporting of backlogs, it would increase pressure on states and localities to clean up their act.
Senator Patrick Leahy, the Judiciary Committee chairman, has long expressed concern about the backlog. He now needs to carve out time in the committee’s crowded agenda to move this legislation forward. Some national problems are highly complex and defy workable, bipartisan solutions. Ending the rape kit backlog is not one of them.