Gathering forensic evidence after a sexual assault is a meticulous but invasive process that can take 3 to 6 hours, though it's a process that most victims hope will lead to catching their attackers. But according to what USA Today calls the "most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever," conducted by the paper and journalists from more than 75 other papers and TV stations, there are at least 70,000 untested rape kits languishing in city, suburban, and rural US police agencies. And because the investigation covered just over 1,000 or so agencies (a microcosm of the nation's 18,000), that number may actually reach into the hundreds of thousands. Why aren't the kits tested? Reasons range from inconsistent policies on testing to not having a prosecutable case (e.g., lack of victim cooperation) to police not believing the victim to the financial cost (it's about $1,000 to test each kit).
Some of the reasons are contradictory: The Jackson., Tenn., PD hasn't tested kits in some cases because of a lack of a suspect; in other cases, kits weren't tested because a suspect had already been IDed. One problem is that some agencies consider a rape kit only relevant to a single victim, instead of recognizing the potential to catch serial predators. "It's like a baby's mobile," says a rape survivor. "You touch one piece and it moves all the others." But there are those pushing to make testing mandatory, including the head of a Delaware police department who says, "It's amazing how, [for] many of these sexual predators, we have their DNA and we never tested the kit. It doesn't make any sense." Read the investigation in full. (An astounding thing happened when Houston tested more than 6,600 old rape kits.)