Peeples: Why is Evidence Ignored in Storage and Thrown Away?

NC may have the most untested rape kits in the nation (15,160 reported from 92% of law enforcement agency reports submitted). It is clear that too many rape kits are going unprocessed in NC and the NC General Assembly is not providing money to test or to track them, even in the face of this astounding backlog. It is also significant that none were reported from any universities (according to the report from Attorney General Josh Stein’s office). But when rapes are reported in NC, the state is falling down on the job – not processing the evidence and actually sometimes throwing away the evidence. Ignoring the evidence causes more damage in the long run, allowing rapists to run amok in NC and move on to other states. And there are many advantages of testing them as soon as possible.

“Every $1 spent on the analysis of a kit returns $81 from averted future assaults.”

The 81 to 1 savings is according to an article reviewing the research of two Stanford University professors published “Analyzing approaches to the backlog of untested sexual assault kits in the USA,” 3/5/18, Journal of Forensic Science. The article also states that the $81 may be a conservative estimate and it could go as high as $3,000 for every $1 spent. The professors estimate that there are around 400,000 untested sexual assault kits in the backlog in the U.S.A.

Sexual Assault Kits on display at NC NOW State Conference in 2017. Photo Credit: Catherine Evangelista

Their reviews of police data for jailed perpetrators suggest that the average number of assault victims per assailant is around 26. The cost of testing a kit ranges from $700 to $1500.

The inventory that NC undertook as part of a bill initiated in Cumberland County (with the help of Fayetteville NOW) counted 15,160 untested rape kits with 92% reporting. According to “NC may have more untested rape kits now than any state. Advocates want answers.” 3/6/18, News and Observer, “California and Florida currently are reported as having more than 13,000 untested kits.”

Another problem even with the high inventory of 15,160 in NC is many more rapes are not reported. In fact, no universities reported untested rape kits and we know undergraduates report that sexual assault is rampant at universities. University surveys, including one by AAUW, have shown 20%-25% undergraduates say they had been sexually assaulted or raped. “Too many institutions of higher education are failing to protect students,” according to many studies, including a 2014 Senate Report, “Sexual Violence on Campus.”

In 2004, North Carolina inventoried 6,200 kits that piled up before the state crime lab had enough funding to test rape kits in cases without a known suspect, according to the attorney general’s office. It cleared the backlog by testing a few hundred and deeming most of them unfit for DNA analysis.

The website says four states have passed mandatory testing legislation: Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan.

So when NC Attorney General Josh Stein says his office believes that a program to test NC’s backlog of kits would cost about $10 million dollars, he might also add that timely testing of rape kits could save NC law enforcement and the justice system approximately $800 million over a projected time into the future by getting perpetrators caught much earlier in their crime careers and saving additional victims from trauma, hospital exams, lab technicians time, etc. But taking the crime seriously and saving victims requires getting the elephant of misogyny out of the equation. Ask yourself, do you think we should stop testing for evidence in any other category of serious violent crimes, like testing for DNA in murder cases?

Sen. Shirley Randleman (Repub.) of Wilkesboro, who is on an NC Senate subcommittee dealing with a proposal to develop a system of tracking rape kits for victims, said that there is no money in the current budget this year for this and “money can follow next year.” Call your NC assembly representatives and demand $10 million for next year to save at least $800 million over 10 yrs. End the Backlog.

– By Margaret Peeples, Charlotte NOW member, and Gailya Paliga, NC NOW President

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