We sometimes hear from jurisdictions that they don’t consider the untested rape kits in their storage facilities to be part of a backlog—that officials actively chose not to test those kits. These jurisdictions fail to see the value of testing every kit booked into evidence, particularly when the identity of the perpetrator is known.
At the Joyful Heart Foundation, we join experts in this work to roundly dispute the idea that there are kits that do not require testing.
Cleveland, which is located in Cuyahoga County, has been leading the way in securing cold case convictions after submitting nearly 4,000 backlogged rape kits for testing as part of Ohio's Sexual Assault Kit Testing Initiative.
Our new series, Cold Case Convictions, begins, highlighting the consequences in allowing rape kits to remain untested, as well as the value DNA evidence has for bringing justice to victims of sexual assault.
Their investigative work with the Cleveland Plain Dealer has explored each facet of the criminal justice response to sexual violence—from rape kit testing to victim re-engagement to prosecution. Read our interview with them.
Since Ohio's rape kit testing initiative began in 2011, 125 agencies have submitted 6,437 kits—about half of which have been tested.
As NPR reported this week, "rape kits give evidence to victims' stories." Law enforcement must count, track and test the kits in their evidence rooms—they must believe and honor survivors' decisions to participate in the criminal justice process.
Last week, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine released the latest numbers on his state’s efforts to end its backlog of untested rape kits, which currently stands at 4,956.
Most Americans with a general knowledge of our criminal justice system assume that rape kit evidence is sent for testing automatically after it is booked into police evidence. As DNA has played an increasingly important role in our criminal justice system, even laypeople grasp how vital DNA evidence is in resolving rape cases. Rape kit testing can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm a victim's version of events, discredit a suspect's story, identify serial rapists by connecting individual crime scenes, and exonerate innocent suspects. Rape kit testing sends a crucial message to victims that their cases matter. It puts assailants on notice that the criminal justice system takes their crimes seriously.
As we have shared previously, Ohio is making strides toward ending its rape kit backlog. The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) reports that of 1,165 kits tested so far, there have been 322 DNA matches in CODIS, the Combined DNA Index System. From those matches, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office has already secured 33 indictments and has an additional 122 leads to investigate.
The first two criminal indictments, formal statements charging a defendant with a crime, have been filed in Cuyahoga County, Ohio as a result of Attorney General Mike DeWine’s initiative to clear the state’s rape kit backlog, with many more expected to follow. As we shared recently, 53 law enforcement agencies from across Ohio have submitted 2,465 backlogged rape kits, more than 1,000 of which came from Cleveland. From approximately 600 kits tested so far, 90 DNA hits have resulted.