Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Rape Kits Go Untested In California

rape kit
For a moment, we would like you to imagine a teenage girl who experienced a traumatic event. Rape. Imagine now that it was someone you knew or was close to you. What might you expect to be done about it? If you are in any way familiar with the criminal justice system, or have a penchant for TV crime dramas, some things probably come to mind. First move, alert the authorities.

After which, the victim must undergo the arduous task of reliving the event when giving a statement. Describing the offender (if they are unknown to the victim), in an effort to give authorities a chance of arresting the sex offender. You are also probably aware of the term “rape kit.” A victim is swabbed for the offenders bodily fluids in an attempt to gather DNA evidence. But, what then?

You might think that the rape kit would be tested and the reading then submitted to a database. Makes sense, right? Sex offenders often strike more than once and often times leave behind trace evidence. It may come as shock to learn that not all rape kits are tested. Even more shocking are the reasons why.

Testing Rape Kits

Every day in the United States, young men and women are sexually assaulted. Many of whom are still teenagers. There are procedures in place to help victims receive some justice. But, more times than not, offenders seemingly get away with their crimes. And in many cases, such offenders could have been stopped before they rape again. The reason why some offenders are able to rape, and then rape again is due to various law enforcement agencies failing to test rape kits, Los Angeles Daily News reports. The reasons why rape kits go untested could be due to:
  • The case is solved or cleared.
  • Officers may regard it as a low priority.
  • The financial costs of testing can be upwards of $1500.
It is likely that the latter two reasons turned your stomach, more than a bit. To think that an alleged rape would be a low priority, or too costly to be tested. But, that seems to be the case. In fact there is evidence of at least 9,000 untested kits in California, according to the End the Backlog Initiative. A number that is sure to be much higher. Not testing rape kits can have unintended consequences years later.

One such case, involving Helena Lazaro, who was repeatedly raped at the age of 17, saw what happens first hand. At the time of the incident, she had a rape kit performed that she assumed would have been tested and logged. Years later when she identified her attacker, not only was the statute of limitation expired, it was revealed that her rape kit had never been tested by the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. Lazaro’s story is not an isolated occurrence; there is evidence of this kind of thing happening across the country.

“I think about that 17-year-old girl, the 25-year-old girl, the 30-year-old woman – all the versions of myself who have suffered,” Lazaro says. “That suffering could have ended much sooner.

Rape Kit Backlog Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund

In an attempt to direct financial resources to police and Sheriff’s Departments for rape kit testing, a bill was introduced that would allow an individual to designate on his or her tax return that a specified amount in excess of his or her tax liability be transferred to the Rape Kit Backlog Voluntary Tax Contribution Fund (AB-280). While the bill’s author, Democratic Assemblyman Evan Low, says this is “not the ideal nor perfect solution.” Adding:

“I am in agreement that we as a state and public jurisdictions should adequately fund this for justice to be obtained. But, that’s not the reality.”

Serving the Victim, Representing the Victim

Crime victims have many rights that they may not be aware of. Don't get lost in the justice system. Attorney Katie Walsh is a victim's rights attorney. If you have questions regarding your own case or that of one of your loved one's, then contact Attorney Walsh