By Sarah Tofte
Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Human Rights Watch released a report Tuesday finding that Los Angeles County has at least 12,669 untested rape kits sitting in storage facilities. Sarah Tofte, a researcher for that study, calls it a case of major injustice to rape survivors.
(WOMENSENEWS)--Catherine, who lives with her young son in Los Angeles, was awakened at midnight by a stranger who raped her, sodomized her and forced her to orally copulate him--repeatedly. When it was over, the police brought her to a rape treatment center. As with all rape victims, her body was a crime scene. She consented to the collection of evidence.
The lab said it would take at least eight months for it to analyze the evidence gathered from Catherine's body, known as a "rape kit." For the detective, that was too long to wait. He personally drove the kit to the state lab, where it still sat for months.
When it was finally processed, it generated a "cold hit"--the DNA matched someone in the offender database, and Catherine's rapist was identified. During the months Catherine's kit sat on a shelf, unopened, the same rapist attacked at least two other victims; one was a child.
In this age of advanced DNA technology, and a heightened public understanding of how DNA testing can help solve crimes, one might assume Catherine's story wouldn't happen.
We know that testing a rape kit can identify a potential assailant, confirm a suspect's contact with a victim, corroborate the victim's account of the sexual assault and exonerate innocent defendants. National studies have shown that cases in which a rape kit was collected, tested and contained DNA evidence are more likely to move forward in the criminal justice system.
But today, Human Rights Watch, for which I work as a researcher, released a 68-page report that measures the scale of the neglect in Los Angeles.