Funding of Rape-Kit Testing Leads to 1,000 Arrests

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Photo courtesy ABC-TV News

Languishing evidence in 100,000 sexual assault cases around the U.S. has been sent for DNA testing with money from Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance and federal authorities, leading to more than 1,000 arrests and hundreds of convictions in three years, reports the Associated Press.

Another 155,000 or more sex assault evidence kits  await testing, and thousands of results have yet to be linked to suspects. Many who have been identified can’t be prosecuted because of legal time limits and other factors.

“We have begun to rectify what has been a tragic failure of government and law enforcement at all levels — a decades-long, systematic denial of equal rights for women in the justice system,” Vance said Tuesday, releasing results of his $38 million investment in testing outside his own turf. Vance issued a new report on the project.

Law enforcement and legislators have faced growing calls to eliminate the rape kit backlog — swabs and samples collected in sex assault cases but never tested for DNA. Vance, who took office after New York City cleared its own testing backlog, has worked with the U.S. Department of Justice since 2015 to help other places tackle theirs.

See also: Ending the Rape Kit Backlog Fact Sheet

The two agencies have paid to send years-old kits to labs from dozens of states and communities, ranging from Flint, Mi. to Mobile, Al., to Las Vegas.

The big grants from Manhattan and Washington, D.C., “infused this movement with resources,” says Ilse Knecht of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a sexual assault victims’ advocacy group. “There’s a lot more to do,” she said, but “this was the right thing to do.”

The backlog built up over decades, partly due to the cost of tests that can run $1,000 or more. Vance’s program — financed with $38 million from settlements in banking-related cases — sent 55,000 rape kits to testing labs. The results have yielded 186 arrests and 64 convictions to date, with more investigations and prosecutions underway.

In one case that prodded the effort, 11,000 untested rape kits were found in an abandoned warehouse near Detroit in 2009, ABC-TV reported. 

The backlog of untested sexual assault kits “perpetuated what I think is a seismic injustice against sexual assault survivors,” Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance said at a news conference Tuesday morning.

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