It’s a very familiar scene in TV shows like Law and Order: SVU…A survivor of sexual assault gets questioned by police and they ask the victim to undergo an examination with the use of a sexual assault kit, also known as a “rape kit.”
The survivor has just survived a horrible ordeal and now must undergo a highly invasive examination by someone they don’t know that can take hours to complete.
The hope for the victim is that through the testing of the evidence found in the “rape kit,” that enough DNA evidence could help law enforcement to make an arrest.
This seems like a no-brainer.
Law enforcement should use this kit to help prevent a suspect from doing the same thing to someone else and perhaps solve other unsolved cases.
Unfortunately in Missouri, many rape victims have never had their kits tested.
In November 2017, Missouri Attorney General Josh Hawley announced a plan to review unsubmitted rape kits to labs for testing.
A total of 266 law-enforcement agencies, 66 healthcare providers, and five crime labs responded.
The results were astounding. There were at least 4,889 rape kits in Missouri that have never been submitted for DNA testing. Of the untested kits, 3,701 kits were still in possession of law enforcement while 1,188 kits were in possession of healthcare providers.
This results in about 80 untested kits per 100,000 residents in Missouri.
Reasons provided for not submitting the rape kits for testing include victim non-cooperation (49%), victim not found to be credible or no apparent crime was committed (46%), instructions to not test from prosecuting attorneys (39%), suspect could be identified without DNA (28%), instructions from forensic lab (16%), and other (6%).
There were also 679 kits not reported to law enforcement that relate to possible sexual assaults.
So how will Missouri go about testing the rape kits?
Well, a short turnaround time of 60 days to a longer time of 211 days is what it takes for a crime lab to provide results to law enforcement. The AOG reported that it would take five years to test the currently untested kits in Missouri’s crime labs if those labs were only focuses on those kits.
To help with this, the AOG applied for a federal $3 million grant to contract with private forensic labs to test the older kits.
Funding is also being sought to track rape kits to help the survivor stay apprised of the status of their case while tracking the kits’ process.
“From a law enforcement perspective, any rape kit that goes untested means a powerful tool for identifying and prosecuting sex criminals remains unutilized—and a rapist remains on the streets,” Hawley said in a press release. “From an individual perspective, any kit that goes untested means a survivor is denied the justice they so deserve. We must do all in our power to eliminate this problem in Missouri and work to better track evidence that will help identify perpetrators.”
It’s likely that some cases close to home could be solved from the results of testing in the near future. It’s hard to know exactly what crimes will be solved with these kits tested.
But with nearly 5,000 kits going untested, one has to imagine that at least a handful of unsolved cases may be solved.
This will likely lead to some sort of healing for the victim and their loved ones. No matter what side of the political spectrum you represent, everyone should be thankful to see the AOG focus on these untested rape kits.
Perhaps soon enough, some new justice will be served.