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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