Languishing evidence in over 100,000 sexual assault cases around the country has been sent for DNA testing with money from a New York prosecutor and federal authorities, spurring more than 1,000 arrests and hundreds of convictions in three years, officials say. It's estimated that another 155,000 or more kits still await testing, the AP reports, 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. Still, the effort is a significant start at correcting "an absolute travesty of justice," Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Tuesday while releasing results of his $38 million investment in testing—all outside his own turf. "That backlog not only undermined justice and perception, and reality, of equality—it also made every woman and every American less safe," he said.
Law enforcement has faced growing calls to eliminate the backlog of rape kits—swabs and samples collected but never tested for DNA. Vance, who took office after New York City cleared its backlog, and the Department of Justice have worked in tandem since 2015 to help other places tackle theirs. The agencies have paid to send years-old kits to labs from dozens of states and communities; a test can cost more than $1,000. One kit went untested for 15 years, though Tracy Rios had given police the name of the then-friend she accused of luring her into a vacant apartment and sexually assaulting her in 2002 in Tempe, Arizona. Police said they couldn't charge him based on her word. She underwent a rape kit exam, but the investigation stalled, she said. "I lost faith in the system. I thought they didn't care," she said Tuesday. Two years ago, she suddenly got some news: Her rape kit had finally been tested, with money from the Manhattan DA's office, and police were pursuing her case anew. "It was amazing to know I was going to get justice," Rios said. Her attacker is now serving a seven-year sentence for sexual assault.
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