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Rape Kits Go Untested, Rapists Walk Free

Rape Kits Go Untested, Rapists Walk Free

When a woman or man is raped their body becomes the crime scene. Traces of blood, semen, or pubic hair left behind become evidence which when collected with a rape kit can reveal the assailant’s identity.

The process can be both intrusive and extensive, sometimes lasting up to 6 hours, but with the hope that justice will be served victims give their bodies over once more.

However, in Los Angeles city and county over 12,000 rape kits sit untested in storage facilities collecting dust.

The result: Rapists go free. Victims wait for justice.

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) released a report that examines the backlog of rape kits in Los Angeles County, the largest known backlog in the United States. Their report reveals the systematic failure of the Los Angeles Police and Sheriff Department to ensure rapists are prosecuted and held accountable for their crimes.

Despite millions of dollars in federal funding, money that was granted in an attempt to address the problem of rape kit backlogs, HRW found 12,669 untested kits, nearly 500 of which belong to cases that have passed the 10-year statute of limitations for rape in California, making it impossible to prosecute the assailant even if their identity is revealed. Still, thousands more were destroyed untested.

“Women who are raped have a right to expect police to do all they can to thoroughly investigate their case, but in LA they often feel betrayed to learn that their rape kits are never even tested,” said Sarah Tofte, researcher with Human Rights Watch’s US program and author of the report. “And in some cases, failure to test means that a rapist who could have been arrested will remain free.”

Take Catherine for example, a mother in her forties that was raped by a stranger. According to the report she decided to undergo a rape kit only to be told it would take eight months for the crime lab to analyze it. During that time at least two other victims (one who was a child) were attacked and when the lab finally identified her assailant they discovered he had already served 18 years for a previous rape.

Timely testing of rape kits doesn’t only have the potential of identifying rapists and saving future victims. It can exonerate a suspect that is not guilty or help connect evidence from different crime scenes. The fact that such critical information sits unused is ludicrous, not to mention completely unjust.

In their report, HRW calls on Los Angeles Police and Sheriff Department to take immediate steps to begin to eliminate the rape kit backlogs. They also call on the Mayor of Los Angeles, the Los Angeles City Council, and the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to prioritize funding for the testing of rape kits in their 2009-2010 budgets.

Being raped isn’t something anyone would like to imagine, let alone live through. The attack if often so traumatic that reporting the crime is difficult; enduring the process of collecting evidence even more so but with the vision of their rapists behind bars victims bear the lengthy exam. The crime labs, however, fail miserably in LA and rapists walk free. 

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Photo by Alex Gorzen used under a Creative Commons license.

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25 comments

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7:21PM PDT on Apr 8, 2009

@Robert, Melissa. From the LA times quoted in the report:"DNA cases submitted by detectives are backlogged because technicians have room to process only 18 cases a week." So best case scenario in their old building is 936 cases a year TOTAL. Which means that if they never processed material from any homicides, or had to testify in court, they are still 3-800 cases per year behind on sexual assaults. That's IFF they are able to work to full capacity year round. Throw in the conflicting demands for 49 departments, training, court, vacations, pregnancies etc and how many cases a year do you think they could actually process?
New building in 2007, still some issues. One of which I suspect is staffing. MS in a science, I can't picture LA County crime lab as the most appealing of employers for several reasons. (Pay, cost of living, job stress, county near bankruptcy, lawsuit capital of the universe...)

@Cherie. Unfortunately the 8 months of wait for current cases isn't that bad nationally. One of the southern states had a 2 year wait on everything through their lab. A lot of DUI cases got dismissed because the blood tests weren't making it back for trials.
It's the usual story. People want perfect results, right now, or else, but won't pay for it.
Anybody in here have any bright ideas on how to pay for fixing the issue?
I'm sure this "slap in the face of every woman" was delivered in part by women voting against bond measures and taxes to pay for it.





7:15PM PDT on Apr 7, 2009

I didn't get to finish what I had to say. I guess we need to tell our women that if we are raped, we have to collect and preserve our own evidence. Then we have to submit our findings for DNA testing, and pay for that. When once the DNA testing identifies the rapisst, we can pay for our own private detective to locate and apprehend the rapist. Then we can pay for and build our own jail in which to punish the rapist.... do you get where I'm going with this. This is basically how I feel, that we are on our own or may as well be because those rape kits are sitting somewhere, going nowhere. All the while the rapists can continue, uninterrupted, and find and violate more women or children or whoever. Knowing their last victims most likely will not have any support or policing to help idenify and prosecute them who have committed these violent crimes. That's the message we're getting, that our rights to have these rapists caught and punished are not important enough for the kits to be processed and these offenders identified and entered into a national database. Boy, do I feel safer. Once again, people not doing a job which they are paid to do. Wonder how the procedure would be if a cops wife or sister were the victim. Bet your ass those rape kits aren't sitting somewhere collecting dust. Our society is run off in a ditch somewhere. There is no pride, no intergrity, no one cares anymore. If I ever have the misfortune to become a rape victim, I'll be sure to handle things m

6:57PM PDT on Apr 7, 2009

We have become so used to incompetent people not doing their jobs, that numbness has taken over. Until we stand together and speak up and speak out against those who are paid to do a job, yet don't do their job. The integrity and pride that used to be important to a person's character has fallen by the wayside. If a person who is raped has to also go through the process of evidence collection, then why aren't people doing their job? Why aren't these tests being properly examined and matched to a national database? How many women are being attacked by serial rapists? Just because these rape kits aren't being processed and the idenity of these monsters brought into the light? Until we have had enough and demand more be done, those incompetent idiots who take no pride or responsibility for their work, just collect paycheck's, while God only know3s how many more violent offenders continue to walk our streets and victimize our women and children. Enough. Do the job you are paid to do or find people who want to have a good job and will do the job which they are paid for. Time to quit passing the buck, pointing the finger at everyone except themselves. So while these kits sit and go untouched, the creeps just continue stalking and raping women. This is unacceptable and sickening. Once again, those who need the most reassurance can't even have the satisfaction of knowing that everything possible is being done to identify who violated them, locking them up and helping to hal

5:15PM PDT on Apr 6, 2009

This is sad and ridiculous. If men were the ones being raped would things change? After all this time are we still just so much junk not to be cared for properly and given due respect?

3:52PM PDT on Apr 5, 2009

I don't understand this at all. Wouldn't it be MOST cost-efficient for ALL law enforcement agencies to process rape kits on the same day it is obtained, EXACTLY like they do it on the 'CSI' shows? That way, you can catch the crimminals ASAP, preventing them from doing COUNTLESS new crimes against humanity, and THAT gets VERY expensive to pay for by society as a whole. It's simply the cheapest option to solve ALL crimes QUICKLY for any society. Perhaps if we urged the feds to look at this snafu that way, that they would save money in the long run, they would remedy this invalid practive. Further, they should make a DNA record of ALL people at birth or whenever, and put it on CODIS, the national DNA data base, because it would enable us to discover rapists and serial killers early in their crimminnal careers, instead of chancing on them after they killed countless victims.

12:16AM PDT on Apr 5, 2009

They need the things chopped off so they have to sit to pee. That might deter them from doing it to begin with. Why is the law so soft with criminals anyway??

12:38PM PDT on Apr 4, 2009

This is one the dumbest things I have heard in a good while, and believe me I have heard some dumb things. It is so simple to rectify that is what makes it so dumb!!!!!!!!!

11:35AM PDT on Apr 4, 2009

It is not just in California. In Dayton,Ohio there was a backlog of rape kits a few years ago. When they aquired a federal grant to process them, it was found out there were about 3 serial rapist in they city. At that time it cost around 100 dollars per rape kit for processing.

11:34AM PDT on Apr 4, 2009

It is not just in California. In Dayton,Ohio there was a backlog of rape kits a few years ago. When they aquired a federal grant to process them, it was found out there were about 3 serial rapist in they city. At that time it cost around 100 dollars per rape kit for processing.

7:24AM PDT on Apr 4, 2009

This is terrible, and it's happening all over the country. I started a petition to spread awareness about this issue and get some attention from President Obama.

You can sign it at: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/2/clear-the-backlog-of-thousands-of-untested-rape-kits

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