After evidence piled up for years in police property rooms, warehouses and crime labs, tens of thousands of sexual assault kits are giving up their secrets, and rapists who’ve long remained free may finally face justice, the Associated Press reports. A dramatic shift is taking hold across the U.S. as police and prosecutors scramble to process kits and use DNA matches to track down sexual predators, many of whom attacked more women while evidence of their crimes languished. Lawmakers are proposing reforms to ensure this doesn’t happen again. “There’s definitely momentum,” says Sarah Haacke Byrd of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an advocacy group. “In the last year, we really are seeing the tide turn where federal and state governments are offering critically needed leadership and critically needed resources to fix the problem.”
In Cleveland, the county prosecutor has indicted more than 300 rape suspects since 2013, based on newly tested DNA evidence from old kits. Authorities expect to charge 1,000. In Houston, authorities have cleared a backlog of 6,700 kits that included cases dating back to the 1980s. The $6 million project turned up 850 matches in a national DNA database. In Detroit, the Wayne County prosecutor is seeking donations to analyze, investigate and prosecute cases from the results of 11,000 kits that had been untested. Hamstrung by city and county money troubles, the prosecutor formed a partnership with two nonprofits to raise $10 million. Contributions have poured in from corporations and residents in all 50 states and eight countries. Legislators in more than 20 states are considering laws that include auditing all kits and deadlines for processing DNA evidence.