The Accountability Project: Cities Hinder Efforts to Shed Light on Untested Rape Kits

When we launched The Accountability Project in 2014, we hoped to shed light on the backlog of untested rape kits in cities around the country. Counting backlogged kits—whether through a statewide audit, following media attention, or in response to a public records request from an advocacy organization—is the first step toward rape kit reform.

Once communities know the scope of their backlogs, the broader reform effort can begin: backlogged kits will be tested, cases will be investigated and prosecuted, perpetrators will be held accountable, and survivors will finally be offered a path to healing and justice. The DNA evidence contained in backlogged rape kits can solve decades-old crimes and identify serial perpetrators, many of whom previously operated with impunity.

Over the past three years, in a pro bono partnership with law firm Goodwin LLP, we have used public records requests, countless emails, and phone calls to uncover nearly 39,000 untested rape kits in 41 jurisdictions across 28 states.

Today, we are releasing information from cities that have not responded or have not fully responded to our public records requests.

Despite years of effort, and multiple attempts, these cities have refused or ignored our requests for information—or have outright admitted that they don't know how many untested kits are in their custody—and have not taken any steps to start counting. This lack of transparency hinders efforts to shed light on the problem and determine how many untested rape kits are languishing on shelves.

Please visit each of the city pages linked below for more information.

A few of these cities outright denied or ignored our public records requests. Several of these cities—including Atlantic City, Omaha, and San Jose—stated that they have no way of knowing how many older kits in storage remain untested. This is unacceptable. This lack of transparency in how DNA evidence is processed in each of these cities is holding them back from important progress.

Because of this lack of meaningful compliance with our repeated requests, the number of untested rape kits in these jurisdictions is, and will remain, unknown. We call on these cities to be accountable, inventory the untested rape kits sitting in their storage facilities, and report the number publicly. Community members, advocates, and survivors deserve to know the truth.

Going forward, The Accountability Project will continue to push for full transparency and accountability from jurisdictions across the country about their rape kit testing policies and practices. We will expand our efforts to find out how many untested kits are being stored at law enforcement agencies and crime labs, and explore ways to ensure full compliance with our public records requests.

This work is an important piece of the broader movement toward rape kit reform. By igniting action on this issue—encouraging agencies to start counting their backlogs, sparking greater media attention, and raising awareness in these communities—we can push toward the long-lasting change that communities want and that survivors deserve.

-By Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, March 30, 2017

END THE BACKLOG is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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END THE BACKLOG is a JOYFUL HEART FOUNDATION initiative and a proud supporter of