By Jamie Lindsey

Trigger warning: This post discusses sexual assault and rape 

 

The Missouri Attorney General’s office came out with with a report last week stating that 90% of backlogged sexual assault kits have yet to be tested. Specifically, 830 out of 7,000 rape kits have actually been tested according to the report, leaving the overwhelming thousands in the dust.

justice-delayed

This is a terrifying thought to me. It’s not like we all didn’t already know that rape kits can go untested for years, but now we know there are potentially over 7,000 (respectively) sexual criminals in the state of Missouri who have yet to be convicted of their crimes. It’s terrifying to think these criminals have yet to face justice and are able to roam freely, possibly continuing to commit these crimes. 

My doors are locked all the time. 

Why do sexual assault kits get backlogged for so long? To summarize from the website End The Backlog, when a sexual assault or rape occurs and is reported, a rape kit is collected from the survivor and given to the police/detectives as evidence. One of the main reasons these kits go untested for DNA is because detectives or police won’t request a DNA sample to use as evidence, so it simply floats away to a shelf and sits. This is considered “unsubmitted” evidence and is an insane practice to me for so many reasons. The second main reason that rape kits get backlogged is because detectives or prosecutors will request the evidence to be tested and is therefore submitted to be tested, but it sits in crime analysis labs for long periods of time. 

This isn’t only a Missouri issue but a national issue. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities, waiting. Many experts don’t even have a real number for untested kits, but it’s well above 200,000 in the nation. Which means there are hundreds of thousands of women and men who have yet to see their attacker served proper justice. Or even caught, for that matter. 

rape kit backlog

It’s kind of odd if you think about it. According to End The Backlog, since 2010, Congress has set aside millions of dollars for the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, a federal grant that supports backlog elimination. Since that time, Congress has approved over $131 million dollars for the initiative. 

If Congress has allotted this much money for backlogged rape crimes, why has Missouri only tested 10% of its kits? 

It’s difficult to answer this question. However, I have a gut feeling that it all goes back to priorities on almost every level of our government. It stems from how much money the state makes in revenue compared to debts the state has to pay back. The answer also arises within the federal government, and how it decides what is allotted to the states, how much, when, and for what purpose. The answers lies within the red lines of bureaucracy and the green lines of capitalism. It’s the heartbreaking line that prevents survivors from feeling safe ever again. It’s the line that keeps our doors locked. 

Missouri first received a grant to test sexual assault kits in 2018 from the federal government. The state only received $2.8 million and didn’t test many kits. As far as the Missouri government’s budget, independent of the grant, the state doesn’t expend funding toward testing backlogged kits, despite millions allocated each year for victims of crimes. 

Hey Missouri, why don’t you take the revenue you create for taxing tampons and pads and use it to test rape kits?

It goes back to the question of why only 10% of backlogged kits get tested in Missouri. Could it link back to priorities? Once the state expends the funds, it goes to county and city police agencies and justice systems — the same facilities where the sexual assault kits sit in storage rooms. Where does it all go wrong? These survivors deserve justice! I can’t imagine the constant fear a person must go through knowing their attacker is still out there, even though you have a statement and they did a rape kit. They have DNA and a description of the attacker. And when you call to check up on your case, you find the police have yet to test the rape kit you gave months or even years before. After enduring the trauma of the attack, as well as the after effects, the evidence that could put the attacker behind bars is just sitting on a shelf. And month after month, year after year, it continues to sit. 

There are plenty of numbers out there that could be strewn in every direction about this topic. There are links to some available numbers below. But I think there is a bigger picture here. In our city, our state, and our country, we have to make personal safety a priority, which means we have to find and bring to justice the people who that are making it dangerous to live and walk freely. We have to prioritize this issue. Our governments need to start expending the funds to keep the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative alive and prosecute sexual criminals. Ninety percent is too high of a number and, quite frankly, it’s embarrassing knowing that our governments do not make testing backlogged sexual assault kits a priority. 

takerapeseriously

“To me, the backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. For that reason, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority.” – Mariska Hargitay

 

Learn More:

Click here to donate to the End the Backlog initiative from the Joyful Heart Foundation

Report from Missouri Attorney General’s Office in article from KOAM: 

https://www.koamnewsnow.com/news/review-finds-90-of-missouri-rape-kits-never-tested/1144026565

End The Backlog: 

http://www.endthebacklog.org/ending-backlog-government-responses/federal-responses

Examples of attacks that could have been prevented if kits were tested:

https://amp.theatlantic.com/amp/article/594046/

2019 Missouri Budget (other years can be found at same website):

https://oa.mo.gov/budget-planning/budget-information/2019-budget-information/fiscal-year-2019-executive-budget

2015 Missouri Budget (checked to see if funds were allocated to testing prior to the 2018 federal grant): 

https://oa.mo.gov/sites/default/files/FY%202015%20Executive%20Budget%20comp.pdf

Federal government Fiscal year budget 2018 (other years can be found at same website): 

https://external.ojp.usdoj.gov/selector/office?po=BJA&fiscalYear=2018

 

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