State Law Provides Funding to Clear Rape Kit Backlog

Rape kits--the evidence collected from sexual assault victims during medical exams--often languish untested as state crime labs struggle to keep up with demand.

Rape kits--the evidence collected from sexual assault victims during medical exams--often languish untested as state crime labs struggle to keep up with demand. AP

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North Carolina will provide $6 million over two years to help clear a backlog of roughly 15,000 untested rape kits.

North Carolina will provide $6 million to clear the state’s backlog of untested rape kits under a law signed this week by Gov. Roy Cooper.

The Survivor Act, passed unanimously by the North Carolina General Assembly, seeks to test the evidence collected in 15,000 sexual assault kits held by law enforcement agencies across the state and to prevent the backlog from recurring. The law diverts $6 million from the state’s general fund to the state Department of Justice over a two-year period for kit testing. It also requires law enforcement to submit the physical evidence from new sexual assault cases to the state crime lab for testing within 45 days of collection.

Sexual assault evidence collection kits, more commonly referred to as rape kits, are tested for possible DNA evidence collected during an examination of victims—their bodies, clothes and other personal belongings—after the crime occurs.

The new law “will deliver justice to more victims and prevent backlogs from occurring in the future,” according state Attorney General Josh Stein.

“Each sexual assault kit represents a tragic event in a person’s life,” he said in a statement. “The survivors of these horrific crimes deserve the strongest possible response from North Carolina … There is no doubt that implementing the Survivor Act will put rapists behind bars.”

The law also requires law enforcement agencies to establish review teams to survey their untested kit inventory to determine a “priority submission order” for testing, taking into consideration factors like statute of limitations, whether the victim knows his or her assailant, and the urgency of the investigation. The state crime lab will then work with each local law enforcement agency to test kits according to their priority order.

Law enforcement agencies are also required to notify the state’s crime lab if an arrest or conviction is made due to a match in the DNA database.

Nationwide, more than 200,000 rape kits remain untested. North Carolina is one of several states this year to consider streamlining the process through legislation. A similar measure has been proposed in Wisconsin; another passed in California and is awaiting the governor’s signature.

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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