Testing rape kits swiftly helps link crimes together and identify serial rapists sooner. Studies of perpetrators identified through testing backlogged kits show that serial offenders commit many types of violent crimes, including crimes against intimate partners and acquaintances. Testing rape kits and uploading suspect DNA into the federal database helps prevent future sexual assaults and domestic violence. James Drane of Detroit is one of the many perpetrators linked to both domestic violence and sexual assault. Drane’s long rap sheet, which includes multiple sexual assaults against strangers and partners, several domestic violence-related charges, and other felony crimes, would be significantly shorter if he had been identified sooner through the testing of three backlogged rape kits collected from his earliest crimes.
For 16 years, Drane was free to commit numerous acts of violence against both the women in his life and strangers he targeted on the streets of the city. In 1999, Drane assaulted a minor on her way to school, picking her up in his car, raping her, and dropping her off at another location. In 2004, Drane targeted another stranger, driving her to an alleyway where he sexually assaulted her. In 2008, he raped the mother of one of his children after luring her into his car. Punctuated throughout all of these assaults—horrifying enough on their own—were other attempted assaults on women and violence committed against current and former partners.
Justice should have come swiftly to Drane. All three of these women had sexual assault evidence kits collected. Drane had also been arrested after one attempted assault in 2006, but the charges were eventually dismissed by the court. During and after this brush with the law, Drane continued assaulting women.
In 2013, as Detroit worked to clear its backlog of rape kits, the three kits that contained evidence of Drane’s assaults were finally tested. His DNA profile matched in all three cases, and he was charged with multiple counts of criminal sexual conduct, as well as kidnapping. Drane was sentenced to 14 to 25 years in prison for one criminal sexual conduct charge and 10 to 15 years for another.
During the period between his first known assault and 2014 conviction, Drane’s criminal behavior focused on women with whom he had some sort of relationship. In addition to the 2008 sexual assault of the mother of his child, he was charged with an array of domestic violence offenses, including stalking and attempted strangulation of a partner before locking her outside the house during winter in Michigan. He continued to commit violent acts, sexual assaults, and attempted assaults against women he knew and didn’t know, indiscriminately.
Serial offenders like Drane can cause irreparable damage when they are free to commit more crimes—undeterred—while evidence of their crimes is left to sit on the shelf. The timely submission and testing of the first 1999 sexual assault kit could have spared Drane’s victims violence and pain.
By testing backlogged kits, and swiftly testing all newly collected kits, communities can also work to prevent other forms of violence, including domestic violence and intimate partner sexual assault. Testing kits can link crimes together, identifying violent serial perpetrators like Drane sooner and preventing further harm.
-By Sloane Gray, Tow Fellow, October 23, 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.