The Joyful Heart Foundation knows every single kit represents a survivor who underwent the four-to-six-hour rape kit collection process to collect evidence because they believed it would bring them justice and healing. Yet, some jurisdictions do not consider the untested rape kits in their storage facilities to be part of a backlog; these officials actively chose not to test those kits because they fail to see the value of testing every kit booked into evidence. At the Joyful Heart Foundation, we join experts in this work to dispute the idea that there are kits that do not require testing.
Notably, eliminating the backlog requires testing all kits in the backlog booked into evidence and connected to a sexual assault reported to law enforcement. Anonymous or unreported kits, in which a survivor has chosen to collect DNA evidence in a rape kit but not report the assault to law enforcement, should not be tested until the survivor has consented to testing.
Of those rape kits connected to a crime reported to the police, all kits should be tested regardless of how long it has been since the sexual assault. Here’s why:
DNA in rape kits can identify serial rapists: Testing rape kits can yield evidence in the form of a DNA profile, which can be entered into local, state, and national DNA databases containing DNA from offenders. By testing every kit connected to a reported crime, more DNA profiles will be developed and uploaded to these databases, meaning more DNA from crime scenes will be linked, identifying serial rapists.
Serial rapists’ DNA can be found in kits in both acquaintance and stranger rape cases: Serial rapists tend to assault both acquaintances and strangers. Testing every rape kit, even if the suspect is known, will determine if the attacker’s DNA matches DNA from another case. As more sexual assault cases are pursued, more offenders are apprehended, and future crimes are averted.
DNA in rape kits can connect different crimes: Offenders who commit sexual assault often are engaged in other crimes such as burglary and homicide. DNA from rape kits can match DNA from other crime scenes and provide leads for investigators to follow.
Communities save money by testing kits and prosecuting offenders: In Cuyahoga County, Ohio, officials tested over 4,000 backlogged kits, investigated every lead, engaged survivors, and prosecuted cases. Through this testing, serial criminals were taken off the streets and future crimes were averted, saving the county $38 million.
Federal best practices call for testing all kits: The National Institute of Justice’s July 2017 report, National Best Practices for Sexual Assault Kits: A Multidisciplinary Approach, outlines 35 nationwide recommendations for handling rape kits. In this report, the federal government strongly recommends all rape kits connected to a reported crime be submitted to a lab for DNA analysis.
Testing all kits sends a powerful message to survivors and offenders: If a community tests all kits, offenders will know law enforcement is serious about sexual assault and using the evidence they left behind to apprehend and prosecute them. More importantly, rape kit testing sends a message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter.