A rape kit is a box or envelope used to collect and store biological or trace evidence in cases of sexual assault, which may yield DNA evidence. Over the past few years, thousands of untested rape kits have been found in police evidence rooms around the country, including 10,000 in Los Angeles, 12,000 in Dallas and 10,500 in Detroit, according to "Solving the Problem of Untested Evidence in Sexual Assault," an article produced by NIJ. This has led to extensive media coverage, policy discussions and Congressional hearings.
A recent study of more than 2,000 law enforcement agencies found that 14 percent of all unsolved homicides and 18 percent of unsolved rapes contain evidence that was not submitted to a crime lab for analysis. Among the reasons given for not testing the evidence were it would not have probative value; charges against the suspect may have been dropped; the suspect pled guilty; or, in rape cases, there may have been an issue of consensual sex, according to "The 2007 Survey of Law Enforcement Forensic Evidence Processing" report published by the NIJ.
The study also said that law enforcement may not fully understand the potential value of forensic evidence in developing leads. A total of 44 percent said a suspect had not been identified, and 15 percent said analysis had not been requested by prosecutors.
According to the NIJ article, only 50 to 60 percent of sexual assault kits contain biological material that does not belong to the victim, and some kits can be up to 25 years old. One of the key issues of the study would be to determine when and how to notify victims of testing.
"Delays in evidence being sent to a laboratory as well as delays in analyzing evidence result in delays in justice," Nancy Ritter wrote in the NIJ article. "In worst-case scenarios, such delays can lead to additional victimization by serial offenders or the incarceration of people wrongly convicted of a crime."
The new study a
|Contact: Beth Kuhles|
Sam Houston State University