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Eliminate the Rape Kit Backlog

October 8, 2010

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Eliminate the Rape Kit Backlog

Every year, more than 200,000 individuals report their rape to the police. Almost all are asked to submit to the collection of DNA evidence from their bodies, which is then stored in a small package called a rape kit. It is an invasive and sometimes traumatic process that takes four to six hours to complete. But the potential benefits are enormous: testing of the DNA evidence in a rape kit can identify an unknown perpetrator, confirm the presence of a known assailant, corroborate the victim’s account of the rape, and exonerate innocent suspects. Unfortunately, in the United States today there are an estimated 400,000-500,000 untested rape kits sitting in police evidence storage facilities and crime labs across the country.

Given that rape has the lowest reporting, arrest, and prosecution rates of all violent crimes in the United States, the revolution in DNA technology could strengthen the criminal justice response. As National studies have shown, cases in which a rape kit was collected, tested, and found to contain DNA evidence are more likely to move forward in the criminal justice system. For example, when New York City began to test every booked rape kit the arrest rate for rape skyrocketed from 40 percent to 70 percent of reported cases.

A Survivor’s Story
Vodpod videos no longer available.

Conversely, untested rape kits typically represent lost justice for rape victims, as they often mean a rape investigation was cut short before the offender could be brought to justice. Rape kit testing is not just useful in “stranger rapes,” but is also especially useful to corroborate a victim’s account in the majority of rapes, so-called “acquaintance rapes.”

Number of rape kits estimated to be untested nationwide: 180,000.

In 2004 Congress attempted to eliminate the rape kit backlog by passing the Debbie Smith Act, but more is needed. The Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009 will solve the rape kit backlog by requiring law enforcement to prioritize rape kit testing and account for the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities, and will help ensure a victim’s experience in the aftermath of a sexual assault is as painless as possible.

Please urge your Members of Congress to support and co-sponsor the bipartisan Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009.

When a woman is raped in the United States, police collect evidence from her body and the crime scene for a “rape kit.” But rape kits often go untested, denying victims a chance for justice. With HRW’s Sarah Tofte and victims’ rights advocate Valerie Neumann.  Listen to the Story:

From Human Rights Watch Podcast: Untested Rape Kits

The Shocking Numbers On Untested Rape Kits

As a teenager, Helena Lazaro was raped; it was over a decade before the authorities properly investigated her case. And the numbers suggest that Lazaro is far from the only one ill-served by the system.

Lazaro’s experience is recounted in detail in this month’s Marie Claire; the whole piece is worth reading, if difficult to get through, but here are some hard facts gleaned:

Age Lazaro was when she was raped by a 45-year-old trucker: 17.
Number of years it took for her rape kit to be opened, despite her repeated follow-ups: 13.
Amount of dollars it costs to test a rape kit: 1,500.

Number of women, in addition to Lazaro, her attacker is known to have raped: 2.
Number of victims the average rapist is likely to attack, according two studies: 7, 11.

Number of rape kits estimated to be untested nationwide: 180,000.
Number of unsolved rapes of the past five years: 150,070.
Number of untested rape kits Human Rights Watch found last year in Los Angeles alone: 12,669.

Percentage of the 7,974 rape kits Illinois police stored between 1995 and 2009 that were confirmed to have been tested: 20.
Portion of Illinois law enforcement agencies responding to the query to arrive at that figure: 1/3.
Number of days within which Illinois police now have to test rape kits, thanks to the new Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act, the first of its kind: 10.

Read more:


I Used to Think the Law Would Protect Me: Illinois’s Failure to Test Rape Kits

View this document on Scribd


Bill information from Thomas, legislative information from the Library of Congress


1. [111th] H.R.4114 : Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009
Sponsor: Rep Maloney, Carolyn B. [NY-14] (introduced 11/19/2009)      Cosponsors (43)
Committees: House Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 11/19/2009 Referred to House committee. Status: Referred to the House Committee on the Judiciary.

2. [111th] S.2736 : Justice for Survivors of Sexual Assault Act of 2009
Sponsor: Sen Franken, Al [MN] (introduced 11/5/2009)      Cosponsors (11)
Committees: Senate Judiciary
Latest Major Action: 11/5/2009 Referred to Senate committee. Status: Read twice and referred to the Committee on the Judiciary.


when someone is violated
it is as if their entire
self esteem has been negated
then to find that they are
violated once again
as rape kits languish
until lord knows when
there is no closure
their rape becomes a
case cold
but they live with these traumas
until they are very very old 😦

Karen Lyons Kalmenson



5 Comments leave one →
  1. karen lyons kalmenson permalink
    October 8, 2010 11:21 am

    when someone is violated
    it is as if their entire
    self esteem has been negated
    then to find that they are
    violated once again
    as rape kits languish
    until lord knows when
    there is no closure
    their rape becomes a
    case cold
    but they live with these traums
    until they are very very old:(


  2. October 8, 2010 1:36 pm

    This is truly an outrage!!
    There are rapists walking the streets unpunished because the Judicial System STILL does not take it seriously.
    Rape is NOT about sex, but about power and control.
    Thanks for highlighting this problem.



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