sexual assault evidence kits
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.
When DNA evidence can be destroyed at will by hospital officials, the lack of a statute of limitations can mean almost nothing. Giving survivors only 30 days to decide whether to press charges is an unfairly small window of time to process the traumatic event.
Recently released documents show that the backlog of untested rape kits in Alaska’s capitol city, Juneau, is staggering. Out of the 283 sexual assault evidence kits collected since 2000, 206 still remain untested, while the status of three remains “unknown” - disturbing news for a state with a rate of sexual violence nearly three times the national average.
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.