We Need To End The 'Rape Kit' Backlog NOW

by Wendy Wisner
THAWIWAT SAE-HENG / Shutterstock

Every 98 seconds, someone in the U.S. is the victim of a sexual assault. This includes women, men, and yes, even children.

In stark contrast, only 6 out of every 1,000 sexual assault predators will end up in prison. Horrifying, isn’t it?

But we have one very important tool to identify, prosecute, and bring sexual predators to justice: DNA evidence. In fact, if law enforcement officials are able to gather DNA evidence after a sexual assault crime has been committed, they are much more likely to have airtight case against a predator. This evidence can also identify the predator in other crimes they may have committed in the past.

The way that DNA is gathered after a sexual assault has occurred is referred to as a “rape kit.” A rape kit is really a forensic exam that a victim undergoes after the crime where DNA is collected from the victim’s body, clothing, and belongings.

This is not a pleasant experience for the victim — not at all. As End the Backlog, a nonprofit organization that defends and supports victims of sexual assault describes it, gathering evidence for a rape kit can actually be quite invasive and traumatic for the victim: “The victim can choose to have a doctor or nurse photograph, swab and conduct an invasive and exhaustive examination of the victim’s entire body for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker — a process that takes four to six hours to complete.”

According to End the Backlog, once this evidence is collected, it gets sent to law enforcement agencies for testing. After testing, this DNA evidence can be used to “identify an unknown assailant and confirm the presence of a known suspect. It can affirm the survivor’s account of the attack and discredit the suspect. It can connect the suspect to other crime scenes and identify serial offenders. It can exonerate the wrongly convicted or accused.”

Sounds pretty important, life-changing, and absolutely freaking necessary, right?

Well, here is where the outrageous and truly infuriating thing happens: The majority of these rape kits do not get tested. They sit in police stations or crime lab storage facilities for months or years.

Yes, really.

This. Is. Not. Okay.

End the Backlog explains that there is no way to get exact numbers on this, but that currently, there is no federal law mandating that all rape kits be tested, and it is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits scattered throughout the country.

Hundreds of thousands, folks.

Does all of this not make you just completely livid? I picture these victims, in extremely close proximity to the time they were assaulted, spending hours courageously making sure that evidence is collected. And for what? For this evidence to sit at the bottom of a heap, never to be looked at? For their predators to still be free to wander the streets looking for their next victims?

Here we have misogyny, hatred, rape culture, and injustice at its finest. If you’re not furious, there’s something wrong with you.

But there are things that can be done to end the backlog and bring these sexual predators to justice. As End the Backlog notes, a growing number of states across the country have enacted laws to mandate that rape kits be tested. And the results have been stunning.

For example, in 2009, Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office in Detroit found that they had 11,341 untested rape kits in a police storage facility. Soon after, with funding from the National Institute of Justice, they were able to test about 10,000 of these kits, which led to the identification of 798 potential rapists and 92 convictions.

This is huge and so important — not just for the victims of sexual assault themselves, but for the safety and well-being of us all. Get these predators off the streets.

We need to get every single rape kit out there tested — now. This requires money and support from government and law enforcement agencies, of course. But it also requires all of us to channel our rage about this issue into action. Shout about this from the rooftops, contact your reps, and tell everyone you know that something needs to be done about this ASAFP.

If you need to find a location near you that that performs sexual assault forensic exams, or if you are a victim of sexual assault and need support of any kind, please call the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673). To learn more about sexual assault or find other services available for victims, visit