A Human Rights Watch report released yesterday found that there are at least 12,669 untested rape kits in Los Angeles County, the largest known backlog of its kind in the US. A September 2008 LA city controller’s audit showed a backlog of approximately 7,000 kits.
The report (see PDF) is based on interviews with rape victims, rape treatment providers, police officers, public officials, and criminalists as well as data from the LA Police and Sheriff’s Departments and the 47 independent police departments in LA County. The report found that of the 12,669 kit backlog, 499 kits are past the statute of limitations in California rape law and at least 1,218 are from unsolved cases where the attacker was a stranger. It is estimated that thousands more kits have been destroyed in LA County untested. According to interviews with rape treatment providers, the report found that many victims assumed that DNA did not match in the database or that no evidence was found when they did not hear the results of their rape kit.
Sarah Tofte, the report’s author, said in a press release “women who are raped have a right to expect police to do all they can to thoroughly investigate their case, but in LA they often feel betrayed to learn that their rape kits are never even tested… And in some cases, failure to test means that a rapist who could have been arrested will remain free.”
A LA rape treatment provider told Human Rights Watch that “We go through the motions of collecting the kit, and then it doesn’t get tested. Either we stop collecting rape kits, or we test every rape kit. It’s now standard procedure to encourage every rape victim to report the crime and get a rape kit collected. If we think it’s unconscionable to discourage a rape victim from reporting and getting a rape kit collected, then it’s unconscionable to have a rape kit backlog.”