When a victim of sexual assault reports the assault, a doctor or nurse will photograph, swab and conduct an invasive and exhaustive examination of the victim’s entire body for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker—a process that may take four to six hours to complete.
Most people—with good reason—assume that evidence will be utilized to its fullest extent and in a timely manner to bring a perpetrator to justice. The reality, though, is that hundreds of thousands of rape kits are estimated to be sitting untested in police and storage facilities across the country.
Ending the backlog starts with knowing about it—educating yourself and others—and then joining our efforts.
Learn about the causes of the backlog.
A rape kit backlog starts for several reasons. Lack of resources and tightened budgets—both for law enforcement and crime labs—have caused rape kits to pile up across the country. But there's more to it than that. In the majority of jurisdictions, the decision whether to send a rape kit for testing rests solely within the discretion of the officer assigned to the case. And a detective may not send a rape kit for testing for a variety of reasons, including misconceptions about the usefulness of rape kits in some cases, misperceptions about a survivor's credibility or if the identity of the suspect is already known.
Learn about why rape kit testing is important.
The truth is that when tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor's account of the attack and discredit the suspect, connect the suspect to other crime scenes and exonerate innocent suspects. For example, after New York City, which eliminated its backlog, the city’s arrest rate for rape jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent, compared to 24 percent nationally.
Find out where the backlog exists and what's happening to end it.
There is no comprehensive, national data on the nature and scope of the rape kit backlog. Few state governments and no federal agencies track rape kit data. Across the United States, there are vast differences in the way law enforcement tracks and reports this data, if at all, making it exceedingly difficult to compare and to have a national picture of the backlog. But because lawmakers have enacted legislation and policies, investigative reports have uncovered backlogs and officials have made the number of untested kits in their communities publicly known, we are beginning to get a bigger national picture of the rape kit backlog. Many lawmakers have begun to undertake rape kit reform efforts. See if yours are among them.
Research what experts and investigative reporters are finding out about the backlog.
Across the country, the rape kit backlog is making headlines. In the END THE BACKLOG Media Archive, you can find a wealth of news from across the country, investigative reports that have uncovered backlogs, op-eds from journalists and reformers, legislation and policy reports, government publications and more.
Learn about how you can join our efforts.
Advocates across the country are working to end city and statewide rape kit backlogs, but they cannot take this on alone. They need support. They need voices. And they need resources. There are ways for all of us to get involved in taking action to end the rape kit backlog in the United States.
Together we can end the backlog.