This month Florida’s Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) announced the existence of roughly 13,400 untested rape kits stored in local police departments across the state. Florida, like many other states, leaves the decision of whether or not to process kits in the hands of local police, which means it often comes down to an issue of budgetary discretion.
Choosing not to process kits, while cost-saving for taxpayers, often leaves cases in a legal limbo, with prosecutors lacking the evidence to gain an indictment, and scores of victims left with no real sense of closure or justice. It is a consistent pattern repeated nationwide, where the cost of such analysis is often viewed as prohibitive in jurisdictions coast to coast.
Untested Rape Kits Common
Estimates on the number of untested kits nationwide vary, though several studies and investigations acknowledge the true number may run well into the hundreds of thousands. In 2014, the city of Memphis alone reported having more than 12,000 untested kits, with a price tag of $6.5 million to complete the work.
Just days after announcing their findings, the FDLE urged state lawmakers to allocate the needed funds, which could top $30 million with an effort spanning anywhere from three to nine years. Florida’s Attorney General Pam Bondi supports the funding and has called the backlog “a public safety issue.”
Kits with actual DNA to be analyzed are usually more costly to process, and the number of kits collected with DNA has steadily risen in Florida in recent years. According to the FDLE’s report, the number of kits containing DNA has jumped 83% in the last year and roughly 141% in the last four years.
Justice for Some
A 2009 study by the United States Department of Justice found that, in the 75 largest urban counties in the U.S., 89% of those convicted of rape were ultimately incarcerated. However, that number reflects only the cases actually adjudicated, in which less than 40% of defendants were convicted of the original rape charge. Meanwhile, far more assailants escape prosecution as assaults go unreported.
Earlier this month, a woman who says she was drugged and raped in San Francisco in 2010 sued the police department in a federal civil rights lawsuit for allegedly failing to process her rape kit in a timely manner. Heather Marlowe announced the suit at a news conference with her attorney on Tuesday, Jan. 12.
“This is not just about me,” Marlowe said. “This is for all women who have had this happen to them.”
- Reilly, S. (2016). Tens of thousands of rape kits go untested across USA. USA Today. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/2015/07/16/untested-rape-kits-evidence-across-usa/29902199/
- Gardner, L. (2016) FDLE releases plan to catch up on rape kit testing. News4Jax. Retrieved from http://www.news4jax.com/news/crime/fdle-to-release-results-of-untested-sexual-assault-kits
- Sernoffsky, E. (2016, January 13) Woman files suit charging S.F. cops not investigating her rape. SFGate. Retrieved from http://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Woman-files-suit-charging-S-F-cops-not-6754375.php
- Dickson, C. (2014, September 23) How the U.S. Ended Up With 400,000 Untested Rape Kits. The Daily Beast. Retrieved from http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/09/23/how-the-u-s-ended-up-with-400-000-untested-rape-kits.html
- Justice Department Bureau of Justice Statistics (2009) Felony Defendants in Large Urban Counties: 2009. Retrieved from http://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/fdluc09.pdf
- FDLE (2016) Florida Department of Law Enforcement Assessment of Unsubmitted Sexual Assault Kits. Retrieved from http://media.news4jax.com/document_dev/2016/01/04/FDLE%20rape%20kits%20assessment_1541181_ver1.0.pdf
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