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Rape Kit

A rape kit consists of small boxes, microscope slides and plastic bags for collecting and storing evidence such as clothing fibers, hairs, saliva, semen or body fluid, which may help identify the assailant and provide evidence supporting prosecution in a criminal trial. The process of collecting the evidence for the kit takes hours.
Advocates for rape victims have long been critical of the way in which the criminal justice system responds in the investigation and prosecution of complaints about sexual assault. There are recurring patterns that indicate a systemic reluctance to deal with the issue. The daunting prospect of facing a system that is often indifferent and sometimes hostile to victims and their concerns is one factor which discourages a majority of victims from even attempting to seek justice. Rape kits and the way that they are processed and the evidence is used provide concrete documentation supporting this view.

No Longer Ignored, Evidence Solves Rape Cases Years Later

They did not. Like hundreds of thousands of other rape kits across the country containing evidence gathered from victims, that of Ms. Ybos lay untested for years on a storeroom shelf.

The reasons for the backlog, experts say, include constraints on finances and testing facilities, along with a slow recognition among investigators that even when the offender is known, DNA testing might reveal a pattern of serial rapes. And too often, women’s advocates say, the kits went untested because of an uncaring and haphazard response to sexual assault charges.

In recent years, the issue has exploded as one city after another has discovered stockpiles of untested kits.

Today, after years of pressure, a shift is beginning. Several cities — including, most recently, Memphis — have won praise for aggressive new efforts not only to submit all new rape kits for testing but also to test those in storage. In just the last year, initial testing of old kits in Detroit and Cleveland has yielded hundreds of indictments and revealed scores of repeat offenders.

This article focuses on the issue of uncovering the identity of rapists in cases of stranger assaults and identifying patterns of serial rapists. The New York Times recently published another story about a rape investigation on a college campus. In that instance the identities of the rapists were known. The evidence from the rape kit provided very relevant evidence of assault in that case. The report was not available at the time that college investigators conducted their initial investigation. They concluded that no assault had occurred. When the evidence became available they refused to reconsider their conclusion in light of the evidence and when the victim then took the matter to local law enforcement she got a similar response of doors slammed in her face.

So we see a long standing pattern. The collection of rape kit evidence is a highly invasive process that is conducted at a time when a victim is already under the stress of a very traumatic experience. A bureaucratic system then either doesn't bother to have the samples tested or refuses to use the evidence when it does become available.

There does seem to be some progress happening as a result of the pressures of advocacy. Backlogs in some cities are being reduced. But, as long as there is the pervasive notion that law enforcement has better things to do with its limited resources, the problems will persist.

Cross reference to a related diary: The other side of Rape Kits

Originally posted to Richard Lyon on Sun Aug 03, 2014 at 10:17 AM PDT.

Also republished by Mad Men on Daily Kos, Feminism, Pro-Feminism, Womanism: Feminist Issues, Ideas, & Activism, Sluts, and Community Spotlight.

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