I was in LA last week doing some reporting for my new book and it gave me a chance to listen to the radio as I waited out the traffic. Traffic sucks, but damn do I wish I had more occasions to listen to the radio. In any case, I heard this story about Human Rights Watch investigator Sarah Tofte’s report on the huge back log of untested rape kits in LA County. An excerpt from Tofte’s article:
Through dozens of interviews with police officers, public officials, DNA analysts, rape treatment providers and rape victims, I found that as of March 1, 2009, there were at least 12,669 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities. In those cases, officers never sent the kits along for forensic testing.
Of these untested kits, at least 1,218 are from unsolved cases in which the attacker was a stranger to the victim. And 499 kits are attached to cases that have passed the 10-year statute of limitations for rape in California, making it impossible to prosecute the alleged assailants even if they were to be identified. Under California law, if those 499 kits had been opened within two years of the attack, the statute would no longer apply. Thousands more rape kits were destroyed untested.
The backlog grew even as the police and sheriff’s departments received millions of federal dollars from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant, a program the U.S. Congress created to address rape kit backlogs. But the effect of the program is blunted by the fact that grantees can use the money to test any kind of DNA backlog.
File this under serendipity: that same night that I heard this story on the radio I went to a benefit for Peace Over Violence, an LA-based organization, and guess who was there? That’s right, Sarah Tofte. We didn’t get much of a chance to chat, but she did say that there is cause for concern in Georgia, Illinois, and plenty of other states across the country.
Seems like grounds for a major campaign, doesn’t it? Does anyone know about your local police dept.’s backlog of rape kits? How can we organize to get these kits tested?