In the News: the Rape Kit Backlog in Texas

The rape kit backlog has received quite a bit of press in the past weeks thanks to a great article by Brandi Grissom in The Texas Tribune. Grissom reports that about 16,000 kits are sitting untested in Houston. Over in San Antonio, the backlog is estimated to be between 5,200 and 11,500  kits, according to several CBS reports, while in Dallas, KDAF reported that officials estimated that the number of untested kits there could be as high as 10,000.

From The Texas Tribune article:

In police departments across Texas, tens of thousands of rape kits have been sitting on the shelves of property storage rooms for years, the result of strained budgets, overworked crime labs and a law enforcement philosophy that rape kits are primarily useful as evidence if a stranger committed the assault.

Officials in Texas have been struggling to find short-term solutions to its backlog for years. In 2009, NBC Dallas-Fort Worth reported that the Dallas PD decided to suspend testing of cold-case rape kits to prioritize testing more recent cases. About a year ago, the Houston Chronicle reported that the City Council in Houston had approved $4.2 in contracts with four private labs to help the struggling HDP crime lab. In November 2009, the San Antonio Police pledged to test of all its kits, but only in stranger cases. And even still, the department is having a difficult time keeping up: ABC’s local station KSAT reported that of the 704 rape kits taken from victims in that year, 227 never even made it to the crime lab.

Working through these backlogs is no easy feat, but as New York City has proven, it can be done. Like Houston, New York City contracted the testing of its 16,000 kit backlog to private crime labs back in 2000; the work was completed in 2003. However, New York didn’t stop there. Funding for extra staff and resources at the crime lab ensure that that every kit is tested in a timely manner, regardless of whether the evidence is from a stranger, acquaintance or partner.

Similarly,  San Francisco Board of Supervisors passed an ordinance that calls for DNA testing of all rape kits within two weeks of collection, and notifying victims of the status of their cases and kits.

The rape kit backlog can be fixed. Policymakers in Texas, like State Senator Wendy Davis, know this. According to The Texas Tribune article:

State Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth, is preparing a bill that would require police departments to test all rape kits in their possession and every one they get in the future. “I think we owe it to every person who has been raped,” Davis said.

Testing every kit not only opens up the possibility of advancing more rape cases through the system–New York’s arrest rate for sexual assaults skyrocketed from 40% to 70% when it began testing all kits–but it sends a message to victims that their cases matter. We need to give victims the confidence that the system is working for them.

From the article:

“Rape victims would not endure the humiliation of a post-assault exam if they understood that the evidence might not be tested and that they did not have the right to decide whether the kit was tested,” said Victoria Camp, deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “All of the kits need to be tested,” Camp said. “That costs money, and I know it takes time, but I think we should prioritize the kits and start working on that backlog until they are all tested.”

We agree. Here’s hoping for continued positive developments in Texas for survivors.

Be sure to check out the full article on The Texas Tribune website here, or The New York Times here.

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