Update: Rape in America

Testing of rape kit data sometimes takes months, even years. CBS

Sarah Fitzpatrick is an intern for the CBS News Investigative unit in New York

In November 2009, a five-month CBS News investigationrevealed that more than 20,000 rape kits at police departments around the country were never sent to crime labs for testing. The two-part series titled Rape in America: Justice Denied also found that kits that are submitted may not be tested for months, or even years, due to lengthy backlogs at forensic testing facilities. CBS News found kits waiting to be tested for up to a year in Kentucky, three years in Alaska and eight years in Louisiana.

The testing of rape kits is crucial for prosecuting rapists and preventing future assaults, as research suggests that 71 percent of rapists are repeat offenders.

Following the CBS News investigation, federal and local authorities around the country are taking steps to ensure the timely testing of rape kits.

On Nov. 18, 2009 Attorney General Eric Holder was questionedby the Senate Judiciary Committee about how the Justice Department would ensure that evidence collected in rape cases is ultimately tested by crime labs.

Holder responded, "Mr. Chairman, I not only pledge that we should, we have to work on this. For every crime that remains unsolved, there is a rapist who is potentially still out there and ready to strike again."

New federal legislation aimed at reducing the rape kit backlog was introduced at the end of November in the House. Senate Judiciary Committee hearingon the topic in December where advocates, policy experts and representatives from police departments across the country testified about the importance of testing rape kits.

A closer look finds rape kit policies shifting nation-wide:

- The San Antonio Police Department changed its policyin response to the CBS News report and will now test all rape kits from cases where the victim did not know the attacker. The department also confirmed to CBS it will begin testing 178 kits from stranger rapes that it had not tested in the past.

- In Santa Monica, all rape kits now are sent to the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department for processing. Previously, it was left up to detectives which kits would be sent or placed in storage. The department reported that they have already begun testing their backlog.

- The Houston city council announcedthat it had authorized funding to test 4,000 kits that remain in backlog at the Houston Police Department crime lab.

- The state of Michigan received a $650,000 grantto test 400 of the estimated 12,000 untested rape kits currently in storage at the Detroit Police crime lab.

- The Illinois Attorney General introduced new legislationthat would make Illinois the first state in the nation to mandate the submission of sexual assault evidence for testing. The bill passed in the Illinois house and is currently awaiting state senate approval.

- In February, CBS affiliate WREG-TV in Memphis conducted a similar investigation,and found that only 6% of all rape kits collected in Memphis was being sent to the local crime lab. In response the Memphis Police Department announced it had changed the policy and would send all of their rape kits from now on to the state lab.
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