Recently the Joyful Heart Foundation announced that Kansas City has 1,324 untested rape kits in law enforcement evidence storage facilities. Sadly, Kansas City is not alone. Despite the fact that DNA evidence can be an incredibly powerful tool, the federal government estimates that there are hundreds of thousands of rape kits nationwide that have never been sent to a crime lab for testing.
We can and should do better.
The Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence joins experts in calling for the mandatory submission and testing of every rape kit booked into evidence and connected to a reported sexual assault. We stand with every survivor who has reported the crime to police and endured a four- to six-hour invasive examination in search of DNA evidence left behind by the attacker — evidence that can play a critical role in solving crimes and preventing future ones.
Many reasons are given for not testing every rape kit, including a lack of resources and personnel. Some law enforcement claim that untested kits represent cases they are unable to pursue because the survivor was uncooperative or didn’t want to proceed with the case. Research has shown that more often than any other crime, law enforcement frequently disbelieve or blame survivors and that survivors frequently withdraw from the criminal justice process because of how they are treated.
Cities that have taken steps to eliminate their backlog of untested kits are discovering hundreds of violent offenders who have been acting with impunity. In Detroit, 326 potential serial offenders. In Cleveland, 229. These are offenders who have caused millions of dollars worth of damage to individuals, their families and their communities.
The positive news for Kansas City is that now that the extent of its backlog is revealed, real reform can begin. The city must commit now to test all of its kits, investigate the leads, prosecute the cases, re-engage survivors in the process and enact policies to ensure timely processing of rape kits in the future.
This kind of commitment requires resources. The federal government is offering leadership, resources and research to fix the problem. Missouri should now join the more than 20 state legislatures working on legislation to require sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory kit submission timelines, the testing of kits that have been in storage for years and the development of guidelines so that a backlog will not reoccur.
We are committed to working with every interested partner — the mayor, law enforcement, prosecutors, crime labs, advocates and survivors — to help find the necessary resources, implement best practices and enact reforms that will end the backlog of untested rape kits.
Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. We must do all we can to bring healing and justice to survivors. Rape kit testing sends a message to survivors that they — and their cases — matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes.
This is too important to blame on bureaucracy or process. Let’s work together to maximize the potential of DNA to bring much-needed justice to survivors and to make our communities safer.
Colleen Coble is the chief executive officer for the Missouri Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence.