Until recently, police in Columbus, Ohio couldn’t differentiate between rape kits and shopping carts
A public records request with the Columbus Police Department revealed that until a year ago, the department tagged rape kits in evidence as “other,” a designation also used for shopping carts and cell phones.
For the last year, we’ve been requesting data surrounding the national backlog of untested sexual assault evidence. While we still don’t know the actual number- so far more than 225,000 rape kits have been found sitting on evidence collection shelves and in hospitals from coast to coast - we have a greater understanding of the many hurdles victims and law enforcement face. There are many reasons rape kits go untested, and the lack of forensic funding continues to exacerbate the problem.
The care rape victims receive is entirely dependent on where the crime occurred. Good sexual assault response policies are comprised of a number of initiatives, including (but not limited to) specific officer training, a victim-centered approach, access to victim advocates, guidelines for submitting kits to labs, and victim notification. Based on what we’ve seen in our reporting so far, we’ve rounded up a list of the five best - and the five worst - sexual assault response policies across the country.
Our request for data and policies regarding the collection, maintenance, and testing of backlogged rape kits in Dallas shows that, as of May 2017, more than 1,000 kits still have not been submitted to crime labs. Of those submitted, only 50% have been tested, and just 35% of those tested have been uploaded into CODIS.
The SAFER Working Group combined authorities from local police departments, the FBI, state crime laboratories, government institutions, colleges, medical examiners, and nurses, which met for more than two years before penning the first federal guidelines for sexual assault evidence collection. This document is undeniably a step in the right direction, but will local law enforcement agencies and state and private laboratories implement these recommendations?