USA Today Finds More Than 70,000 Untested Rape Kits

Stack of white evidence boxes with orange labels saying "Evidence. Warning!! Police Seal Do Not Remove"

Investigation included 1,000 police agencies across U.S.

(July 21, 2015) – A USA Today Media Network investigation has identified more than 70,000 rape kits that have never been tested for DNA evidence. In a series published last week, USA Today detailed results of its investigation, which is the most detailed inventory of untested kits ever conducted in the United States. From Columbia, SC, to Palm Springs, CA, to New Orleans, LA, and to Austin, TX, more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies provided data to USA Today. Survivors Debbie Smith, Joanie Scheske and many other RAINN Speakers Bureau members contributed their stories to national and local media coverage of the untested kits.

The investigation, led by reporter Steve Reilly, also found that:

  • Increased attention on urban and metropolitan police agencies has left tens of thousands of untested rape kits at rural police departments.
  • Law enforcement often fails to recognize how the evidence may be relevant to more than one case or to catching serial predators.
  • There are no official guidelines for processing sexual assault kits at most law enforcement agencies, which leaves the decision up to investigating officers and leads to inconsistencies in practice.
  • Over 50 major police agencies and most states have never before taken an inventory to count their number of untested kits.

Legislative efforts to reduce the backlog have been met with resistance, as well. Reilly found that the U.S. Department of Justice has failed to comply with the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act, or SAFER Act, which was passed by Congress in 2013.

The SAFER Act required the Department of Justice to develop a protocol for accurate and timely collection and processing of DNA evidence specific to sexual assault cases. The national protocols and practices, which had a deadline of September 2014, have yet to be developed. “Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who authored the SAFER Act, called it ‘completely unconscionable’ that the Department of Justice has not complied with the SAFER Act,” according to the report. The Justice Department told the paper that it now intends to meet the law’s requirement by December 2016.

Scott Berkowitz, RAINN’s president and founder, spoke to the importance of accounting for all untested kits and making testing more comprehensive and efficient. "I think that in cities that have started testing all of their backlog, they're finding enough patterns of serial rapists for the information to be really valuable in current cases as well as the ones that have been sitting on shelves for years," Berkowitz told USA Today.

The report says that some local and state officials were prompted to act after being questioned by USA Today about untested rape kits. In Wisconsin, FloridaSouth Dakota and elsewhere, local leaders began auditing the numbers of untested kits and testing evidence that had been in storage.

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If you or someone you know has been affected by sexual violence, it’s not your fault. You are not alone. Help is available 24/7 through the National Sexual Assault Hotline: 800-656-HOPE and, y en español: