The Very Real Consequences of Leaving Rape Kits Unprocessed

Detroit identified 100 serial rapists from a cache of forgotten rape kits.

National Journal
Emma Roller
March 19, 2014, 1 a.m.

There are ser­i­ous con­sequences when state and fed­er­al gov­ern­ments don’t put enough money in­to DNA test­ing. Need evid­ence? Just look at De­troit.

In De­troit, a back­log of rape kits un­covered four years ago was fi­nally pro­cessed, lead­ing to the iden­ti­fic­a­tion of 100 seri­al rap­ists. More than 11,000 un­pro­cessed rape kits were found in a po­lice stor­age fa­cil­ity in 2009, with some of the kits dat­ing back to the 1980s. De­troit’s WXYZ re­ports that 1,600 of the newly dis­covered rape kits have been pro­cessed so far.

The back­log of un­pro­cessed rape kits in the U.S. is shock­ing. Law en­force­ment of­fi­cials use rape kits — which in­clude a DNA test — to de­term­ine wheth­er someone has been sexu­ally as­saul­ted.

As Na­tion­al Journ­al‘s Bri­an Res­nick re­por­ted in Au­gust, crime labs have an enorm­ous back­log of bio­lo­gic­al evid­ence, in­clud­ing rape kits. This is be­cause the U.S. doesn’t have enough ge­net­ic-test­ing equip­ment to meet the high de­mand for DNA pro­cessing.

Mar­iska Har­gitay, the act­ress who plays a de­tect­ive in Law and Or­der: SVU, is pro­du­cing a doc­u­ment­ary about the back­log prob­lem. She’s also help­ing Michigan law­makers pro­mote le­gis­la­tion that would set dead­lines for rape kits to be pro­cessed.

At the na­tion­al level, the Justice De­part­ment es­tim­ates that 400,000 rape kits have been left un­pro­cessed. Vice Pres­id­ent Joe Biden, a vo­cal ad­voc­ate against sexu­al as­sault, has also spoken out about the back­log, and the White House is now de­vot­ing $35 mil­lion of the 2015 budget to rape-kit pro­cessing.

De­Shawn Starks — one of the rap­ists newly iden­ti­fied by De­troit po­lice — was found to have raped two wo­men in two sep­ar­ate in­cid­ents in 2003. Both rape kits were left un­pro­cessed, and 10 years later, Starks raped two more wo­men. He has now been sen­tenced to 45 to 90 years in pris­on.

DNA test­ing may be costly, but the price of leav­ing rape kits un­pro­cessed can be far cost­li­er.

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