‘Travesty of justice’

Backlogged DNA evidence sent for testing in 100,000 sexual assault cases

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. (Slaven Vlasic/Getty Images)

Languishing evidence in more than 100,000 sexual assault cases nationwide has been sent for DNA testing over the last three years. The tests, funded through a joint effort by a New York prosecutor and the federal government, have reportedly led to over 1,000 arrests and hundreds of convictions.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. launched the initiative to tackle the nation’s huge backlog of untested rape kits. Over the past three years, he has directed $38 toward the effort, leading to nearly 200 arrests. The Justice Department has invested an additional $154 million into testing sexual assault kits, leading to 899 further prosecutions, according to data provided to The Associated Press.

“That backlog not only undermined justice and perception, and reality, of equality — it also made every woman and every American less safe,” said Vance on Tuesday, adding that the untested kits represented “an absolute travesty of justice.” It’s estimated that 155,000 sexual assault kits are still awaiting testing.

Tracy Rio, an Arizona resident who was raped by a then-friend in 2002, said that police told her they couldn’t prosecute her attacker unless she underwent a rape examination. She followed through with the process, but police never bothered to test the kit. The evidence remained unexamined for more than 15 years before Vance’s investment finally spurred law enforcement to action. Her attacker has since been sentenced to seven years in prison.

“I lost faith in the system. I thought they didn’t care,” said Rios. “It was amazing to know I was going to get justice.”

The cost of examining rape kits — which can run up to $1,000 or more in some cases — has often been cited by law enforcement as one reason such crucial evidence is left unexamined for years. But victims’ advocates have disputed that explanation, accusing police and prosecutors of discounting victims’ narratives and dropping sexual assault cases without bothering to examine the evidence. In many cases, experts say, it appears that race and economic status significantly impact police’s decision to test a rape kit. According to an analysis of more than 11,300 untested rape kits in Detroit in 2017, 86 percent came from women of color.

Read the full story at HuffPost.

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