Rape kits: Who has access, who gets results?

Yesterday the Washington Post had a piece on the backlog of untested rape kits in the U.S.

Rape kits can help identify unknown assailants by matching DNA profiles obtained from evidence to profiles in the FBI’s national DNA database. The kits can confirm the presence of a known suspect’s DNA, corroborate a victim’s version of events or exonerate innocent suspects.
Most states are not required to notify victims if their evidence has not been tested, so people usually have no idea whether their kits have been processed. Many victims assume that silence from the police means that their kit did not yield helpful information. A much-delayed National Institute of Justice report on the state of the rape-kit backlog is due to be submitted to Congress in the fall; experts on the crime expect it to show that a significant backlog remains.

(What’s in a rape kit? The Denver Post did this graphic to explain.) This is an issue that many, many local newspapers have covered, stating the backlog numbers in the local community and (usually) highlighting one survivor’s frustration with the system. But there’s been little national action on this issue in several years.
It’s not only the processing of rape kits that’s at issue — it’s access. Some women have been denied them altogether. Take this story from last year about a Howard University student who was repeatedly denied rape kits at several DC hospitals.
I’d really like to know more about how rape-kit processing works. Is there a queue, where every new kit is just added to the line? Or is this a situation where uninsured and other women at a disadvantage in the medical system get shunted to wait in line, while others can jump ahead and have their kits processed right away? Does it matter what sort of attorney you have prosecuting your rape case? I’d love to hear from someone who knows more about this.
In the meantime, take action! The Post had some great suggestions for how Congress can start fixing this situation. Write your Senators and Representatives ask Congress to:

  • Require that states that receive grants to use at least 30 percent of the money to pay for testing backlogged rape kits
  • Build in accountability by requiring that states report how many rape kits are tested annually
  • Lift restrictions against states using the grants to pay private labs for DNA testing; crime lab directors across the country have cited this as a reason that they have not applied for or been able to fully spend their grant money
  • Remove an amendment that would require states to expand their DNA databases to include all felons and certain arrestees. Adding people who have not been convicted of any crime to DNA databases raises civil rights and civil liberties concerns, adding unnecessary controversy to the program.

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