Dozens Of Convictions As Thousands Of Rape Kit Tests Finally Processed
CONTENT WARNING: This article details sexual assault.
Thousands of sexual assault victims in the U.S. have had their cases reopened and sent for DNA testing, leading to 186 arrests and 64 convictions to date.
The results were announced by Manhattan district attorney Cyrus R. Vance on Tuesday, after he committed US$38 million in forfeiture money to clear a years-long backlog of untested rape kits across the country.
He said the program is a start in correcting an "absolute travesty of justice".
“That backlog not only undermined justice and the perception, and reality, of equality -- it also made every woman and every American less safe,” he said.
Victims of sexual assault can choose to undergo a medical examination -- called sexual assault investigation kits (SAIK) or, commonly, rape kits -- for DNA evidence left behind by their attacker.
When tested, the kits can be a powerful tool to affirm a survivor's account or identify their attacker.
Authorities in the U.S. have faced growing calls to eliminate a backlog of samples that were never tested for DNA -- a sign, victims advocates claim, that assaults weren't being taken seriously.
While the accumulation is in part due to the costs of tests, often more than US$1000, advocates say many cases have been sidelined by police and prosecutors who downplay victims' allegations.
Vance, a Democrat elected in 2009, took office after New York City cleared its own 17,000-case backlog between 2000 and 2013.
Since 2015, he has worked with the Department of Justice's Bureau of Justice Assistance to help other jurisdictions do the same.
Vance's program has paid to dispatch more than 55,000 rape kits to testing labs across 20 states.
The results have so far led to 165 prosecutions in otherwise forgotten cases.
Of those, 64 have resulted in convictions.
Another almost 45,000 rape kits have been sent to labs through the Justice Department program, which has produced nearly 899 prosecutions and 498 convictions and plea bargains, according to data the agency provided to The Associated Press.
But this is only a start. It's estimated another 155,000 or more sex assault evidence kits still await testing.
If you would like to speak to someone confidentially about sexual assault, call 1800 RESPECT on 1800 737 732. If you are in distress, call Lifeline on 13 11 14.
Featured image: Getty