NY DA Offers $35M to Clear Nat'l Backlog of Rape Kits

Hundreds of thousands languish untested nationwide
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Nov 13, 2014 11:18 AM CST
NY DA Offers $35M to Clear Nat'l Backlog of Rape Kits
Detroit Prosecutor Kym Worthy talks about the $35 million pledged to help eliminate a nationwide backlog in testing rape kits during a news conference, on Nov. 12, 2014, in New York.   (Julie Jacobson)

Evidence from up to 70,000 rape cases nationwide will get long-awaited DNA testing, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. announced yesterday as he pledged as much as $35 million to help eliminate a backlog that has long troubled authorities, victims, and lawmakers. Experts estimate hundreds of thousands of rape kits—swabs and specimens gathered during victim exams—remain to be tested for genetic evidence that could identify, or eliminate, a suspect. "We want them to know that we, as a nation, are doing everything in our power to bring justice to them," Vance said at a news conference with advocates including Law & Order: Special Victims Unit star Mariska Hargitay.

The backlog is largely a factor of the $500-to-$1,000-per-kit cost of testing, but advocates feel it also signals that sex crimes aren't always enforcement priorities. "To victims, it says, 'What happened to you doesn't matter.' And to criminals, it says, 'What you did doesn't matter,'" said Hargitay, whose Joyful Heart Foundation helps sex-crime victims. Advocates hope the funding will build momentum, including $41 million President Obama has proposed. Notable backlogs:

  • New York City tackled a 17,000-case backlog between 2000 and 2003. The results spurred more than 200 prosecutions.
  • Memphis, Tenn.: More than 12,000 kits went untested for years; the city is now working on them and facing a lawsuit from rape victims.
  • Detroit: Prosecutors discovered 11,000 rape kits in an abandoned police warehouse in 2009; testing so far has yielded 14 convictions.
  • Cleveland: Prosecutors have sent their entire 4,700-kit backlog for testing, so far yielding more than 200 indictments and 50 convictions.
Meanwhile, New Orleans is reeling from a report yesterday that cops blew off more than 1,000 sex crimes. (Read more rape kit stories.)

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