Rape Kit Testing Backlog Thwarts Justice for Victims

"Because of limited capacities, laboratories are forced to prioritize their cases based upon court dates and whether or not a suspect has been identified," said Christian Hassell, assistant director of the FBI laboratory division. "This oftentimes leaves those cases for which there are no suspects ... unanalyzed in evidence or laboratory storage."

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It costs between $900 and $1,000 to process and test a rape kit, according to Jeffrey Boschwitz, president of Orchid Cellmark, one of the largest providers of DNA testing.

The federal government helps cities and states foot the bill through grants to local law enforcement agencies through the Debbie Smith Act, but it does not require states to report or enforce efforts to prevent a backlog of rape kit testing. Some of the funds have also gone unspent, because the law stipulates they cannot be used to hire staff.

Lawmakers pledged today to enact revisions to the law.

"We don't know how many Valerie Neumans there are," said Rep. Anthony Weiner, D-N.Y. "If you [states] want to get the help of the federal government to do law enforcement, then you have to come clean about the situation."

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Weiner has proposed a law that would require grant recipients to collect DNA samples from all convicted felons in prisons and meet benchmarks for clearing rape kit backlogs. Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., has introduced separate, similar legislation.

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Experts said the rape kit backlog could be exacerbated by the attitudes of local law enforcement toward sexual assault crimes.

"Half the cops don't even treat the [rape] kits seriously," said Rep. John Conyers, D-Mich..

Prosecutor Kym Worthy of Wayne County, Michigan, said that when "we discovered the problem last September, I wrote a letter to the Chief of Police. He ignored me...for six months."

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In her locality, Worthy said there are more than 12,000 unprocessed kits, and that the numbers are climbing. She said some of "these rape kits in the city of Detroit are over 10 years old, so they're victimized again."

But studies show that rape kits are effective in prosecuting crimes.

"Studies have shown that when a rape kit is collected, tested and contains offender DNA, it is significantly more likely that the case will be prosecuted than in cases where no rape kit is collected," said Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va.

"Without forensic evidence, juries question the case, they question the prosecution, even though it may exist. Juries never understand [in cases] where a rape kit has been performed, why it's not in the courtroom," said Rep. Ted Poe, R-Texas. More tests will cost more money, he said, "but so what."

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ABC News' Tom Shine contributed to this report.

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