There’s no way to reverse the physical and psychological trauma of rape. Though the pain can’t be undone, rape kit testing provides an avenue for survivors to seek justice by potentially identifying a perpetrator. Rape kits contain DNA evidence, details of the examination and costly technology to possibly link a perpetrator to the case. According to estimate by the Department of Justice, there’s a backlog of 180,000, though advocacy groups place the number significantly higher. The justice system, along with state and local officials, should further prioritize cases of sexual assault and secure greater resources to process rape test kits.
Two years ago, the Michigan State Police collected more than 10,000 untested rape kits from the Detroit Police Department, according to The Associated Press. About 2,000 of these kits were collected from a closed Michigan crime lab. Only about 1,400 will be processed by the end of the year through funding from the Justice Department’s National Institute for Justice.
Testing rape kits is costly and time-consuming. Each test can cost from $1,200 to $1,500 and take three to six months for results to come back from the lab. For cases in which private companies are contracted to do the testing, crime labs must verify their results — sometimes taking another three to six months. This means that even a test that is run immediately — which appears to be happening infrequently — victims may wait up to a year to receive the results.
DNA testing is performed quickly after violent crimes like homicide, but less priority is placed on test kits of sexual assault survivors. This extended time frame means serial offenders may be able to victimize other individuals. Besides assisting in identifying perpetrators, DNA testing can also exonerate wrongly convicted criminals. If testing doesn’t occur within a particular time period after the assault, cases may be ineligible for prosecution, silencing survivors’ voices with undelivered justice. After the pain survivors have gone through, an inefficient justice system wrongs these individuals again.
A September 2010 Department of Justice study estimated that 25 percent of college women will be victims of sexual assault or attempted sexual assault before they graduate. Given these statistics, and the mass number of rape kit tests on backlog, the data is disheartening. While more efficient testing doesn’t guarantee justice for the victim, it creates an environment where more perpetrators are held responsible.
Programs and funding for rape kit testing, such as the National Institute for Justice and the Michigan State Police’s Backlog Reduction, are increasing in cities like Houston, Los Angeles and Detroit. Still, the massive backlog needs immediate attention. The process of testing must be seriously expedited. The state and federal government need to recognize the significance of prioritizing rape kit testing to ensure justice is secured for the victims.