National Rape Kit Backlog Gets a $35 Million Boost

December 9, 2014 Updated: December 9, 2014

The massive national backlog of rape kits is being targeted by Manhattan’s district attorney, Cyrus Vance Jr. According to Vance, there is a backlog of “hundreds of thousands of rape kits” across the country in police warehouses. His office, which has long been a leader in processing untested kits, has pledged $35 million in national funding toward eliminating that backlog.

“It’s an insult,” said Vance during a Tuesday interview on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.” “Women who are typically sexually assaulted have to go through this invasive testing procedure and then nothing is done with the kits to find the perpetrator.”

The money will go toward processing untested rape kits and accurately tabulate existing backlogs in individual jurisdictions when they apply for funding through Vance’s office. It will also go toward creating national data and information-sharing systems.

A national DNA databank is already in place, and according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, it has been highly effective.

All told, in New York alone 2,912 DNA hits have been generated from the national DNA databank.

A Rape Ever Two Minutes

There is a case of sexual assault in the United States every two minutes, according to the End the Backlog. It is a project of victim advocacy group Joyful Heart Foundation that is partnering with Vance’s office. In such crimes, an exhaustive four- to six-hour examination is conducted by a doctor or nurse of the victim. DNA evidence is collected that can identify the attacker. The resulting DNA evidence, known as a rape kit, has to be tested, though.

That costs time and money that many police departments said they simply don’t have. That, coupled with the fact that there is no national law requiring local police departments to test rape kits, many simply become part of an ever-growing backlog. There is advocacy to change the status quo, though the vast majority of states still don’t have requirements for kit testing.

Actress Mariska Hargitay, star of "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit," speaks on the thousands of rape kits nationwide that are still awaiting DNA testing in New York on Nov. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)
Actress Mariska Hargitay, star of “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” speaks on the thousands of rape kits nationwide that are still awaiting DNA testing in New York on Nov. 12, 2014. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

In part thanks to that advocacy, state legislation was recently passed in California, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Tennessee, Utah, and Virginia to require rape kit testing. There is pending legislation in 22 other states, according to the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN). Texas, Colorado, and Illinois already had laws in place.

49 Indictments

New York City has had some success in dealing with rape kit backlogs in the past. In the 1990s, the city had a backlog of about 17,000 kits. The backlog was cleared and evidence found led to 49 indictments based on DNA. Those convicted got a combined total of 900 years in jail.

On Tuesday Vance said that he hopes to lead by example with the latest effort.

“I hope, certainly, that Congress will say, ‘Well if this little DA’s office in Manhattan can step in and take ownership of this, certainly the federal government can.'”