There are 13,435 rape kits left waiting in evidence lockers in Florida that have never been examined by labs after they were used to collect evidence from victims of alleged sexual assault, according to a report released this week.
Rape kits are used to collect physical evidence from victims of alleged sexual assault, and usually involve swabs to collect DNA. The report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (funded by the state) surveyed police departments across the state and found two main reasons for the lack of tests: victims not participating in the investigations and the state attorney's office not pressing charges.
Advocates who work with victims of alleged sexual assault were not surprised by the findings–they have been pushing for more transparency and urgency in how rape kits are handled. "It is shocking, but unfortunately it is not unusual," Rebecca O'Connor, vice president of public policy for the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, told The Tampa Bay Times.
Law enforcement agencies have said the report doesn't take into account that there are sometimes different reasons for not sending the kits to a lab. The Miami Herald reports:
Police officials defend their handling of the kits, saying the unprocessed evidence isn’t the result of shoddy investigations. Most kits weren’t sent to a crime lab because the identity of the accused wasn’t in dispute, they say, or because the victim didn’t want to pursue the case.
“The reality is, normally, most agencies that have the volume of work we have do not send rape kits when the identity of the offender is not in question,” said Miami Police Chief Rodolfo Llanes. “But what if that guy rapes somebody else? Shouldn’t we have sent all these kits in? That’s the ongoing debate.”
Police departments responding to the survey said that of the 13,435 kits, they believe 9,484 should be sent to a lab for testing. Working through the backlog of kits, the report found, would take three to nine years and cost between $9 million and $32 million.
Florida governor Rick Scott has said he will find the funding to get it done. In other states, including New York, Texas, and Michigan, efforts to clear rape kit backlogs over the last two decades have had real results for rape victims. In New York City, 17,000 kits were tested, with more than 2,000 DNA matches made. That resulted in 200 cold cases being prosecuted.