Columbia Journalism Review profiles reporter Rachel Dissell of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, whose revelations about Ohio’s backlog of thousands of rape kits, some dating to 1993, led to a new state law that mandates timely testing. Dissell has been covering the story since 2010. In August 2013, she and her colleague Leila Atassi published a four-part series about their rape kit investigations. Since 2011, almost all of Cleveland’s backlog of 4,000 kits have been tested. More than 1,600 contained usable DNA, leading to grand jury indictments in 350 cases and convictions of more than 100 rapists.
Dissell first began asking questions about rape kits in late 2009, after 11 bodies were found in and around the Cleveland home of Anthony Sowell, a convicted rapist. The story prompted Dissell and Atassi to investigate how sexual assault cases were handled in Cuyahoga County. They filed a public records request, asking for the number of untested rape kits in storage at the Cleveland police department. The answer they got: We don't know. CJR calls their work “an exemplary instance of local reporting, responsive government officials, and public support coming together to make a community safer.”