Many North Carolinians learned that there are 15,160 untested ‘sexual assault evidence collection kits’ (SAECK) left in North Carolina on February 28, 2018. These kits, also known as ‘rape kits’ were inventoried as part of the 2017 state budget, thanks to a bill that was spearheaded by the executive director of a Rape Crisis center in Cumberland County, Deanna Gerdes. Prior to the inventory, no one knew how many untested ‘sexual assault evidence collection kits’ there were across NC. Gerdes worked with Lt. John Somerindyke, Fayetteville Police Department’s Special Victims Unit commander, who discovered the problem in the first place and leads a unit to solve these crimes. Other key supporters were bill sponsor state Rep. Billy Richardson, D-Cumberland; Roberta Waddle, a long time officer of Fayetteville NOW and NC NOW; and Gerdes’ daughter, Kathryn. Attorney General Josh Stein announced the count on 2/28/18, and has great recommendations going forward what to do. NC is finally making progress on untested rape kits, thanks these heroes in Fayetteville.
Gerdes and Somerindyke have talked about their journeys to getting this bill written and passed at a few events with NC NOW and the Fayetteville NOW chapters in the past 6 months. On Feb 22, 2018, the Fayetteville chapter of the National Organization for Women held their 18th annual Susan B. Anthony (SBA) Birthday Celebration, where they honored Gerdes and Somerindyke for their work on the passage of this bill. Some of their journey is captured in “Fighting for statewide sexual assault survivor justice: Gerdes and Somerindyke honored at Fayetteville NOW event,” which was the cover story in the 2/6/18 issues of Up and Coming Weekly, a community paper in Fayetteville. Gerdes and Somerindyke also did a workshop at NC NOW’s state conference last October on grassroots work to pass the auditing of the Sexual Assault kits. More about their workshop and the conference at “Mobilizing Women NOW – Totally Worth It! Summary.”
Somerindyke discovered the backlog of untested rape kits and also that hundreds had been thrown away. He contacted Gerdes looking for funding to text the shelved rape kits. At the SBA event, Gerdes talked about getting Waddle involved in deciding what to do and how, and getting her daughter Kathryn’s help in writing the text of the bill! Somerindyke talked about his discovery that hundreds of rape kits had been thrown away, his efforts to contact all of the victims associated with those rape kits, and efforts to prevent that from happening again. As one of the victims told him, ‘There is a piece of me in the rape kit that was thrown away.” Also, to the credit of the Fayetteville Police Department, rather than covering up that untested rape kits had been thrown away, the department held a press conference informing the public. Meanwhile, Gerdes found grant money to pay for rape kit testing in Fayetteville because “Vice President Joe Biden had just released $72 million to test backlogged kits.” In Fayetteville alone, Lt. Somerindyke’s cold case task force found and arrested 25 rapists. Somerindyke also said repeatedly, “Rape is a serial crime.” It is great to get these rapists off the streets, and to know that Fayetteville has invested resources into it.
Because of their work on House Bill 731, “The State Crime Lab contacted every law enforcement agency in the state to collect its data, and 92 percent responded. Prior to the inventory, the lab and the North Carolina Department of Justice led by Stein did not know how many untested kits there were.”
Stein, representing the state Department of Justice, has some great ideas what to do now. According to “A count turned up more than 15,000 untested rape kits in NC. Here’s what might be next.” 2/28/18, News & Observer,
“Stein is now recommending the General Assembly create a committee to determine how best to handle the sexual assault evidence collection kits and how to prevent such a backlog from occurring ever again. He wants lawmakers to approve a tracking system that would allow the victim, police officer or prosecutor to check the status of the kit to see if it has been tested or where it’s located.” Somerindyke had mentioned at the SBA event that none of the rape victims knew what happened with their rape kits.
You can see what each site around NC reported in the SAECK-Report-Final.rapekits. Even though we hear what a terrible problem rape is at universities, none of the campuses showed untested rape kits. Also, even though Fayetteville had hundreds, Cumberland County reported no untested rape kits. One assumes theirs had been thrown away. Hopefully no more rape kits will be dumped, thanks to this bill.
Waddle said the success of the bill “shows effectiveness of NOW, shows the value of maintaining ties to other organizations in the community, brings awareness to all the untested kits in the state. “
Here is the front page of Fayetteville NOW’s event program.
Articles on untested rape kits.
- Front page article: ‘Fighting for statewide sexual assault survivor justice: Gerdes and Somerindyke honored at Fayetteville NOW event,” 2/6/18, Up & Coming Weekly, http://www.upandcomingweekly.com/local-news-briefs/4750-fighting-for-statewide-sexual-assault-survivor-justice-gerdes-and-somerindyke-honored-at-fayetteville-now-event
- “ATTORNEY GENERAL JOSH STEIN ANNOUNCES RESULTS OF STATE CRIME LAB INVENTORY OF SEXUAL ASSAULT KITS,” 2/28/18, ncdoj.gov, http://www.ncdoj.gov/News-and-Alerts/News-Releases-and-Advisories/Attorney-General-Josh-Stein-Announces-Results-of-S.aspxLinks include “the full report” on the inventory and a fact sheet on the 15,160 untested kits. It includes information on the inventory, but more importantly, it includes suggested “next steps to determine a plan and to marshal resources to test those kits.”
The Department of Justice makes three main recommendations as a result of this process:
• Test all reported kits currently in law enforcement custody
• Institute a statewide SAECK tracking system
• Develop a protocol to test all kits reported to law enforcement going forward
- “A count turned up more than 15,000 untested rape kits in NC. Here’s what might be next.” www.newsobserver.com, 2/28/18 – http://www.newsobserver.com/news/local/crime/article202727479.html
- “Thousands of untested rape kits sit in evidence rooms in NC,” WRAL, 2/28/18 – http://www.wral.com/thousands-of-untested-rape-kits-sit-in-evidence-rooms-in-nc/17380354/
- “There were more than 15,000 untested rape kits in North Carolina in 2017,” MyFox8.com, 2/28/18 – http://myfox8.com/2018/02/28/there-were-more-than-15000-untested-rape-kits-in-north-carolina-in-2017/
- “Audit shows North Carolina has 15K untested sexual assault kits,” StarNewsOnline, 3/1/18 – http://www.starnewsonline.com/news/20180301/audit-shows-north-carolina-has-15k-untested-sexual-assault-kits