When I found out that more than 20,000 rape kits go untested in the U.S every year I was horrified. How could crucial evidence with the potential to put rapists behind bars sit in a lab collecting dust? Why wasn’t there more pressure to tackle this crisis?
California, one of the nation’s biggest offenders, alone accounts for 7,000 untested rape kits in Los Angeles County, but at least the state promised swift action to bring victims justice.
Well, as is often the case actions speak louder than words. LA city leaders recently announced that the 26 crime lab positions requested by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to address the county’s backlog of untested rape kits will not be funded after all.
With no funds the positions necessary to eliminate the backlog will not be filled, leaving victims waiting for justice and the greater public open to subsequent attacks as perpetrators remain free to commit further crimes.
“This announcement undermines public trust in the city’s commitment to eliminate the rape kit backlog and bring real justice to rape victims,” said Sarah Tofte, US Program researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of a March 2009 report on the rape kit backlog in Los Angeles. “The city, through the budget process, promised to hire the crime lab personnel needed to test in a timely way every booked rape kit and to upload the test results into the DNA database. The city has broken its promise.”
Not only has the city broken its promise; it has left its people vulnerable to attacks from rapists who remain free. Over 70% of rapists are repeat offenders – over 70%! Imagine how many attacks could be prevented if rape kits were tested in a timely fashion.
In the meantime the LAPD has tried to solve the backlog problem by outsourcing testing of rape kits to outside labs, but by federal law public crime lab personnel must review kits tested in private labs before they can entire the into the public DNA database. Rape kits can wait on average another 72 days before this review process takes places creating a second backlog of rape kits that will be impossible to eliminate without additional public crime lab positions.
“Merely outsourcing the rape kits does not provide justice for past, present, and future rape victims,” Tofte said. “This is a huge blow to policymakers, advocates, rape victims, and law enforcement across the country who hoped that Los Angeles would be a national model for other jurisdictions tackling their rape kit backlogs. Los Angeles is instead showing others what not to do.”
Letting rape kits with evidence that could put rapists behind bars go untested is completely unjust not to mention senseless and irrational. Eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits must become a priority nationwide, not only for those who have been victimized, but for all our safety.
What can you do to help?
Sign Care2′s petition urging your senators or representatives to sign the Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 and help us reach our goal of 10,000 signatures!
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Photo by Patricia Williams - http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/01/15/us-los-angeles-backtracks-promise-deliver-justice-rape-victims