Rape

Testing Houston Rape Kit Backlog Yields 850 DNA Matches

Look, anti-rape policies that actually yield results!

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Like many U.S. cities, Houston found itself harboring a large cache of untested "rape kits," the medical forensic evidence collected from sexual assault victims. But since 2013, the city has focused on finally clearing this backlog of potential DNA evidence—more than 6,600 untested rape kits, some dating back decades—with encouraging results. 

Testing the kits has turned up 850 hits from the FBI's criminal forensic database, thus far leading to charges against 29 individuals and six convictions, the city announced Monday. Police are still reviewing DNA matches to see if more charges are warranted. "Now that the testing of these kits is complete, we know that it's up to us to finish the job and to seek justice for these victims," Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson told AP.

While there's no definitive national number of untested rape kits—only a few states actually keep tabs on theirs—the numbers from places that do can be startling. In Memphis, Tennessee, more than 12,000 kits sat untested until recently. Cleveland has a backlog of about 4,700 untested kits; Detroit, upwards of 11,000. Testing the kits isn't cheap, costing cities between $500 and $1,500 per kit, but it does seem to be effective at catching rapists.

"Memphis' efforts to conquer the backlog have already produced 162 new investigations, 22 indictments, and identified 16 people previously convicted of rape," The Daily Beast reports. "After 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in a Detroit police storage facility in 2009, 1,600 have been tested and about 100 serial rapists have been identified—with 10 of them already convicted. Meanwhile, Cleveland police have cleared their backlog, sending the last of 3,985 rape kits discovered in 2009 for DNA testing this summer. So far, about 170 men have been indicted thanks to the forensic evidence." 

Across the country, policymakers and prominent feminists continue to fantasize about "ending campus rape" via tweaks to school sexual-assault policies and new layers of required paperwork. Meanwhile, little attention is paid to shameful number of untested rape kits around the country, which hold the kind of hard evidence that could both bring justice to sexual assault victims and prevent predators from offending again. 

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  1. My God, ENB, won’t you think about how many flashbangs that could’ve been purchased with those funds?!

  2. For the cost of one monthly PO-PO pension payment we could eliminate this backlog…

  3. Testing the kits isn’t cheap, costing cities between $500 and $1,500 per kit,

    Is there any reason that this costs so much? I mean, besides the fact that the government is paying for it.

    1. Good point. What are they doing differently than 23andme, which charges $100?

      1. My guess would be chain of custody requirements. The test themselves shouldn’t cost any more.

        1. I would guess chain of custody as well. Also, there may be differences in the number of SNPs used. 23andme doesn’t do whole genome sequencing. They look at a few specific genetic markers for the health implications. Unambiguous identification of individuals (as needed for a criminal proceeding) requires a lot of SNPs, IIRC. It’s possible that this is another reason. I don’t know the exact numbers.

          1. Hmm…I guess not. It looks like 23andme tests a huge number (10k) of SNPs while only ~100 SNPs with a lot of variation in the population are needed for unambiguous identification (duh! exponentials!). So that’s not it.

            New hypothesis: law hasn’t caught up to technology.

            1. That 10k was supposed to read 100k (it’s ~600k these days).

      2. Yeah, that is a good question. (That I don’t have an answer to.)

        1. 23andme uses a sterile device (cotton swab, etc.) to get one DNA sample from the donor.

          Processing a rape kit would involve at least two sets of DNA, and possibly more, which must be distinguished from each other. The sample also might have to be taken from a non-sterile source, like the donor’s underwear. And there might be several samples.

      3. FWIW, 23AndMe’s kits are said to be sold at a loss (e.g., the theory being that they will make it up by mining customer info (which you consented to if you signed up with them).

        1. ^ there should be a closing parenthesis after “e.g.” and before “, the”

          1. Hmm, there’s an opportunity: police departments selling the genetic info from rape kit testing to cover part of the cost….

    2. They could probably make it cheaper by outsourcing testing to private genomics companies.

      Of course government employees might lose their jobs, so guess that’s off the table.

  4. No no no, you’ve got it all wrong, Elizabeth! Campus anti-rape campaigns target the real enemy: straight white college students. Testing rape kits isn’t a priority because that targets oppressed minority men, who actually commit more rapes, but we’re not supposed to notice that.

    I know a woman who was a feminist in the ’70s and was at an event in which everyone was told that the stereotype of black men raping strangers on the street was “a myth.” My friend was too intimidated to raise her hand and say it had happened to her. That, and the anti-male attitudes of lesbians, eventually drove her out of any feminist activism.

    1. Test the rape kits = racist

      Not test the rape kits = sexist

      complain about police procedure = anti-government kook/ reckless anarchist

      1. complain about police procedure = anti-government kook/ reckless anarchist

        Is that supposed to be a bad thing?

  5. STEVE SMITH could not be reached for comment.

    1. STEVE SMITH EAT DNA DATABASE!

    2. AFTER 500TH MATCH, STEVE SMITH WIN TROPHY!

      1. 12000 MATCHES IN MEMPHIS STEVE SMITH NOW THE KING! FUCK ELVIS!

  6. Possible the only thing I hate more than missing alt-text: the word “kit”.

    1. I’m so angry I can’t even spell!

    2. OK.

      Why do you hate baby foxes? Monster.

  7. So doing their jobs actually works, imagine that.

    1. Hey, I’m just happy to find out that the County of Houston DA takes shit like evidence seriously. Remember, this is the same group who freed something like 75 falsely convicted people last year. It wil be interesting to see if they petition to vacate even more convictions based on this DNA evidence.

  8. Maybe Holder could have the DoJ help?

    HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA…sorry, couldn’t hold that back.

  9. RAPE KULTURE!

  10. This sounds like a situation where mistakes could be made. Lots of mistakes. I would have an issue convictioning someone based only on decade old dna processed in a batch of over 6,000 backlogged kits. especially if the testing was being done by the city.

    1. Well that depends on how careful they are. DNA ssequences can be preserved for extremely long times. Scientists have even successfully sequenced DNA that was hundreds of thousands of years old (frozen, of course). So decade old DNA isn’t really an issue.

      The only issues, I imagine, would be either if samples got mixed up (which can happen with new samples almost as easily as old) or one sample contaminated by another.

  11. You would think that everyone would be happy that they are finally getting the tests completed! Not here!

  12. it does seem to be effective at catching rapists.

    850 matches yielding 29 charges and 6 convictions is effective? Six? I’m stunned at how ineffective the process is.

    1. Well, a decent fraction of that 850 are probably already dead. Also it will likely take a while to locate many and press charges in order to actually bring to trial. Also, depending on what a ‘match’ is, some of them may not be suspects, for example, if a rape kit finds a woman had multiple sexual partners recently, but only one of them is actually the rapist.

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