Every year more than 200,000 people report a rape to police in the United States. They are submitted to a lengthy, invasive and uncomfortable process as a rape kit is collected.
What police do not inform victims is that it may take years for their evidence to be submitted to national databases, if at all.
According to Human Rights Watch as many as 400,000 to 500,000 untested rape kits are sitting around in laboratories and police storage areas across the country.
This is worrying because the DNA evidence contained in a rape kit can identify an unknown rapist. It can corroborate a victim’s evidence. And it can be used to exonerate a suspect who may be serving time in jail after a wrongful conviction.
The issue is of considerable interest to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification which specializes in forensic DNA testing to solve crimes, to trace missing people and to combat sexual offenses.
This month Texas Senator John Cornyn spoke at the center when he expressed his backing for the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act. If it becomes law, it will increase Justice Department grant resources for local agencies that carry out DNA evidence testing, North Texas Daily reported. It would help agencies “test and eliminate backlogged rape kits.”
The UNT center is playing a key role in eliminating the backlog of rape kits. Last year it received $654,539 from the Justice Department to help with the backlog, the Dallas Morning News, reported.
Cornyn said the DNA from those thousands of backlogged rape kits would help solve open cases and identify wanted criminals, if it was downloaded to a national registry.
Fort Worth Police Department Chief Jeffrey Halstead was quoted by the North Texas Daily as saying the center has helped officers with hundreds of cases.
“Without this relationship, we would be challenged to have successful outcome thanks to the complexity of investigation,” Halstead said.