There are estimates that as many as 400-thousand rape kits in the United States are gathering dust on police evidence shelves – going untested. The issue has caused outrage and led to some reforms at local, state and federal levels. We wanted to find out what the status was here. News 3 has been looking into the problem for months .
In January we requested information on the number of rape kits Metro sent to the Georgia Bureau of Investigation in calendar year 2014. The number? 57 of 64 cases listed in Metro crime statistics for the year – and an explanation that cases investigators deem to be unfounded would not have been sent and that in some cases – like those with delayed reporting – a rape kit would not have been used. Those numbers sounded reasonable….but things got interesting when we looked at the number of kits sent to the G.B.I. after the first of the year.
Between January 9th and April 3rd of this year – Metro Police submitted 87 rape kits to the G.B.I. for processing. A nearly 60-percent increase over the number of kits submitted in all of 2014- …some dating back five years. News 3 spoke with Metro Special Victim’s Unit Investigator Tiffany Manuel to find out why. She explained, “Back in early fall of last year – we began talking with the D.A.’s office in reference to rape cases and having them sent over or not sent over to the GBI – and in the past it had been the practice of S.C.M.P.D. that if the case was unfounded or closed exceptional clearance – it would not be sent over to the G.B.I.”
Reports from those cases we requested show most were closed because the victim was not cooperating. Detective Manuel says, “With rape cases – we have to have a victim – we have to have the victim come to court with us – we have to have the victim be able to testify. It’s just imperative for us to prove a case to have the victim there – so if the victim doesn’t want to cooperate – if the victim doesn’t want to go through with it – it’s really hard for us to take a case to court.” So – she says prior policy was not to expend time and money sending those kits for processing.
The Director of the Rape Crisis Center believes that was lax police work. Kesha Gibson-Carter explains,“When there is an issue whereby we’re seeing time and time again with our cases we could not locate the victim, the victim does not want to participate – you know – call on the advocates of the Rape Crisis Center who is there to work in tandem with law enforcement in communicating with these victims,” Something she says was never done…something one alleged rape survivor – who did not want to be identified – believes might have helped. “When I reported my crime – the detectives weren’t sensitive to my case. I feel the way that I reported it – the detective was not empathetic. During that time, I felt like I was the suspect. And she made me just feel like it was my fault, which made it really hard to keep reporting it.”
National outrage over unprocessed rape kits has grown over the past few years – because it’s believed DNA from those kits – properly entered into a national database – could help take offenders off the streets and possibly prevent other attacks. Gibson-Carter says, “One thing we know for sure is that rapists don’t rape one time and when we have these occurrences where so many people – so many assailants – so many perpetrators are getting away with this crime, it gets our attention.” Detective Manuel says national news concerning unprocessed kits led the Special Victims Unit last fall to start looking at their cases going back ten years – resulting in those 87 kits already sent this year and 23 more awaiting processing.
“Why should it take a headline? Why should it take a news story for you to do proper diligence with regard to these cases and kits? That’s not anything new. That’s not a new rule of the land,” says Gibson-Carter who says she’s had concerns since taking over the Rape Crisis Center two years ago that the arrest rate was low compared to the number of kits that were being collected, “I had made several inquiries with the major and the sergeant at that time and I was told that there were no kits in the department.”
She says after several recent cases in which a suspect was charged with multiple rapes – she went to Chief Lumpkin – with her concerns, “In his forty years of policing – it didn’t take much time for him to look at our numbers and to look at these cases to see that there was a problem.”
Sergeant Manuel says the old kits they’ve sent off this year – have so far, not led to any arrests – but their policy has changed for good, “Our practice from here on out will be that we send everything except for the unfounded cases.” Something the alleged rape survivor who spoke to us is glad to hear, “I’m shocked that that wasn’t the policy in the beginning – because it’s terrifying to know if there really are repeat offenders out there. And you know – being a victim and living in this community – that’s a terrifying thought.”
There have so far been no statewide reform efforts regarding rape kit processing in either Georgia or South Carolina. The total number of backlogged kits in each state is unknown. If you’d like to learn more about the national rape kit backlog and efforts to fix the problem – follow this link for more information.End The Backlog