By Sarah Tofte
Monday, April 4, 2011
In February Women's eNews ran a commentary by Wendy Murphy about excessive attention being paid to a backlog of untested rape kits. Here Sarah Tofte offers a vigorous rebuttal, told in part through the tribulations of one young woman.
Murphy's concerns that rape kit testing violates victim privacy rights are simply unfounded.
Federal and state laws prohibit law enforcement from gleaning any medical or genetic information from a DNA test.
A rape kit is only booked into police evidence if and when a victim decides she would like to report the crime to the police. Untested rape kits in police evidence storage facilities are not there because, as Murphy argues, they belong to victims who have decided not to report the crime. Rape kits collected from victims who decide not to report their crime to the police are stored in the hospital.
While many of Murphy's arguments are factually wrong, the one that most concerns me is her contention that many rape kits in a backlog are there because the victim didn't want her rape kit tested.
In my experience, rape victims who go through the process of a rape kit examination, and who decide to report their crime to the police, long for justice and believe there is something in their rape kit worth testing. And for women like Stephanie, learning that their rape kit is in a backlog does not bring relief, as Murphy suggests, but rather it contributes to their sense that their cases--and they--don't matter.
Murphy is right to note that the rape kit backlog is not the cause of the criminal justice system's historically anemic response to sexual assault and testing rape kits will not resolve all the problems with the way our society views and addresses sexual violence. Yet rape kit testing matters. It sends a message to the victim that her case is important and what she went through to report the crime and go through the exam was not in vain. It sends a message to the perpetrator that they will not get away with their crime.
As for Stephanie, in January of this year I called the police department on her behalf to check on the status of her rape kit. Thanks to a new law in Illinois, passed in July 2010, all untested rape kits in police storage facilities have to be sent to the crime lab for testing. Stephanie's kit is one of them. It is waiting in a long line. When it's opened, let's hope the investigative information contained in the kit leads to the re-opening of her case and, finally, to justice.
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Sarah Tofte is director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, where she works on, among other things, reforming the rape kit backlog in the United States.
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