Hundreds of Untested Rape Kits Reported in Davenport and Fort Worth

The Quad-City Times recently reported that there are 671 untested rape kits sitting in storage at the police department in Davenport, Iowa; some have been there since the 1990s. Of the 47 rape kits collected in Davenport in 2012, police sent only 8 kits to the crime lab. Of the 64 kits collected in 2011, only 12 went to the lab for testing.

When asked about the untested kits, Davenport Police Chief Frank Donchez explained, “There are rape kits there that nothing can be done with. If we don’t know the victim, the suspect or the location of the incident, how can we conduct an investigation?”

After undergoing a rape kit examination, which can take between four and six hours, some victims of sexual assault decide not to report the assault to the police. In these instances, the rape kit is sometimes referred to as an “anonymous” or “Jane Doe” kit. To protect the victim’s privacy, the rape kit does not reveal any identifying information. Victims are given a code number they can use to identify themselves if they later choose to report the assault.

How long a police department must store an anonymous kit varies by state and jurisdiction. Under Iowa law, police must store the kit for a minimum of ten years.

Nationally, rape is one of the most underreported crimes, with an estimated 65 percent of cases unreported. There are many reasons why a survivor of sexual assault may decide not to report the assault, including embarrassment or shame, fear of being disbelieved or blamed, the re-traumatization that participating in the criminal justice system can bring, and fear of reprisal by the perpetrator. The closer the relationship between the survivor and the offender, the less likely the survivor is to report the assault.

Whether a survivor eventually decides to report the assault or not, members of law enforcement, prosecutors and service providers must support and empower the survivor to make that decision without any pressure. They must then respect the decision the survivor makes.

In other backlog news, a recent editorial in The New York Times called on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the SAFER Act, which has since been added to the Violence Against Women Act currently being voted on in the Senate. The editorial also revealed new backlog numbers out of Fort Worth, Texas. When Fort Worth police submitted 960 kits for testing, the results led to the identification of 102 suspects, 47 arrests and 36 felony convictions. While clearing a backlog is a critical first step in bringing justice to survivors, jurisdictions must fully commit to following up on the investigative leads that testing can generate.

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