Unapologetic progressive. Fearless activist. Plucky liberal.

Untested rape kits sit in storage in LA. Photo courtesy of Patricia Williams

According to a post on the Ms. blog, an untested rape kit from a survivor of serial killer Anthony Sowell could have put Sowell behind bars months before he was arrested. It also could have saved lives.

A woman was abducted in April 2009 and taken to a house where she was beaten and raped. She managed to escape and went to a hospital, where a rape kit that included DNA evidence was performed and passed along to police.

Like hundreds of thousands of rape kits across the country, it was never tested.

In October 2009, Sowell was arrested for raping a woman who voluntarily went into his home in September. Police found the remains of 11 bodies in and around Sowell’s home. He’s pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to 85 counts of murder, rape and kidnapping.

Meanwhile, the rape kit from the survivor in April 2009 was tested recently and found to match Sowell’s DNA. He killed five women between April and October of 2009, when he was finally arrested. Five women could be alive today if rape kits were tested as soon as they were collected.

Ms. described the situation as “a miscarriage of justice.” I think that’s putting it mildly. For a lot of rape survivors, undergoing a rape kit can be as traumatizing as the assault itself. Some do it only because they hope it will lead to justice. It is beyond cruel to force survivors to undergo an invasive examination for evidence that is just going to sit in storage for years. You can read more here about why the backlog exists, but it boils down to lack of policies requiring rape kit testing and, of course, lack of time and money.

But try this on for size: If we had DNA evidence for each of the thousands of murders that are committed every year, do you think that it would be sitting untested in police storage? Imagine the public outrage if a police chief tried to say, “We have evidence from the person who killed your mother, we just don’t have the money or time to process it.” I can guarantee they would find funding somewhere. But because most rape victims are women, it’s not a priority.

You can help by going to End the Backlog and reading more about this problem. The Feminist Majority Foundation also has a petition you can sign to Aviva Kurash of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, urging her to recognize the importance of rape kits and to treat rape cases as the serious crimes they are. Ironically, after I signed the petition, I got an out-of-office e-mail from Kurash stating she was at the 14th National Law Enforcement Leadership Institute on Violence Against Women. If law enforcement is serious about ending violence against women, they need to get serious about prosecuting it.

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