AS RAPE EVIDENCE LANGUISHES, VICTIMS ARE IGNORED AND PERPETRATORS CONTINUE TO ATTACK
All Natasha S. Alexenko wanted to do after she was raped at gunpoint by an unknown assailantin 1993 was take a shower. But feeling a responsibility to help police solve the crime, shesubmitted to an exhaustive four-hour physical exam. Never did she imagine that the rape kit - thephysical evidence - would sit on a shelf in a police property room for more than nine years.Eventually the rape kit was processed and her attacker imprisoned, but hundreds of thousands ofrape kits are thought to be languishing in crime storage facilities across the country.
There's a backlog because jurisdictions lack the resources or have no interestin processing the kits. That is unacceptable, Ms. Alexenko rightly says. Not only does it add tothe anguish of victims, but it lets perpetrators escape accountability for their actions andperhaps attack again. Congress must give serious attention to a proposal for a new federalinitiative to help localities deal with this public safety problem.
President Obama's fiscal 2015 budget proposal would for the first time allocate$35 million in dedicated funding to help local law enforcement agencies reduce the backlog in rapekits. To qualify for grants from the U.S. Justice Department, communities would have to do morethan just test the evidence; they would have to create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate andprosecute cases connected to the backlog, re-engaging survivors in the system and addressing thesystemic failures that allowed the backlog in the first place.
The proposal, which complements existing funding for DNA testing under theDebbie Smith Act, is based on the powerful experience of police agencies who test all rape kits intheir custody and not just - as is the case with many agencies - the ones for cases in which thereis a suspect, or charges have been filed, or police believe the victim. When New York Cityimplemented mandatory rape kit testing, the arrest rate for rape increased from 40 percent to 70percent. When Detroit tested its first 1,600 kits, it found 87 serial rapists and linked its storedevidence to crimes in 21 states and the District, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, whichis advocating for solutions to the backlog. Congress, which must appropriate the funds if theprogram is to become a reality, is understandably leery of new grant programs, particularly withthe pressures on the federal budget. It's clear, though, that past efforts to deal with theseissues have fallen short and a new approach is needed.