Does This Mean All Those Old Rape Kits Will Finally Get Tested?

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Joe Biden looks over a backlog of rape kits. Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP/Corbis

The U.S.’s extensive backlog of rape kits may finally be tested. This week, Vice President Joe Biden pledged his support for a $41 million budget proposal aimed at accelerating the testing of kits that have piled up in crime labs and storage rooms across the country. Some of the funds are earmarked for research into streamlining the testing process so as to avoid future backlogs.

In 2011, the Obama administration funded pilot projects in Detroit and Houston to test their backlogged rape kits. In Houston, there were 850 hits to the FBI’s DNA database, and charges have been filed against 29 people — 6 of whom are alleged to have committed other rapes while their DNA sat untested. Some of the Houston tests were nearly three decades old. 

Six years ago, 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in an abandoned police storage facility in Detroit. Testing began in 2011, and among the first 2,000 kits tested, 188 serial rapists were identified. Prosecutors in Detroit have since convicted 15 offenders with the results of backlogged tests.

Testing the backlogged kits produced a number of devastating discoveries, including offenders who are in jail for rapes or murders they committed after the abandoned rape kits were initially submitted.

The data reinforces numerous studies that have found repeat rapes by undetected rapists. A 2002 study of 1,882 men found 120 whose self-disclosed actions met the legal definition of rape or attempted rape; of these 120 men, a majority were repeat offenders, averaging 5.8 rapes each. Together, the 120 rapists were responsible for a total of 1,225 acts of interpersonal violence, which included rape, child abuse (physical and sexual), and battery.

Testing the national backlog is essential to prosecuting rapists and protecting the public from serial offenders. But it’s just the first step. The focus on testing can obscure a larger budgetary deficit: Many police bureaus won’t have sufficient resources (financial and otherwise) to investigate the backlogged kits once results come out.