'Justice delayed is justice denied': Law enforcement tests more than half of backlogged rape kits

RALEIGH, N.C. (WTVD) -- North Carolina state lawmakers and Attorney General Josh Stein applauded law enforcement during a news conference Tuesday for clearing thousands of untested sexual assault kits.

"Justice delayed is justice denied," state senator Warren Daniel (R-Burke) said during the news conference. The rapid clearing of the sexual assault kits is helping bring justice for dozens of cases once thought unsolvable.

Stein said when the problem was first brought to light in 2016, more than 16,000 rape kits sat untested on law enforcement shelves statewide. But in the last few years, nearly 3,000 have gone through testing, with 5,404 more currently in process.

RELATED: Untested sexual assault kits in the Triangle make up over a quarter of kits statewide

Stein and the lawmakers present pointed to the 2019 Survivor Act as the force behind this effort. The act requires anyone who collects a sexual assault kit to send it to law enforcement within 24 hours, and for law enforcement to test the kit at an accredited laboratory within 45 days. Since the passage of the act, Stein said the state crime lab has seen a 125% increase in the number of kits processed each year.

"That is a good thing because it means we do not have a backlog and we will be giving respect to each one of those victims," Stein said.

The act also requires law enforcement agencies to come up with a plan to prioritize and review all backlogged kits.

RELATED: Durham police say sexual assault kit funding has helped department make arrests, close cold cases

"To the victims like Miss Linda, we want them to know they care about what happened to them, and we will do everything in our power to deliver justice for them," Stein said. "To the rapists and criminals, no matter how long ago you committed your crime we will not stop coming for you. And to the public, to the people across this state, we care profoundly about your safety, and will take steps necessary to make your communities safer."

More than 1,000 results have been sent to a national genetic database, helping law enforcement officers identify hundreds of potential leads to solve cases that have been cold for decades. In the last couple of years, Stein said, there have been 40 arrests connected to 58 sexual assaults.

Stein added that 268 law enforcement agencies across the state have either submitted all of their backlog for testing or have completely cleared their shelves. Leaders called one of those agencies, the Fayetteville Police Department, a model for the state and the nation after applying for its own grant to clear its backlog and make 62 arrests of rape suspects.

But the progress hasn't been cheap. Stein said the price to test each older sexual assault kit at a national testing company has increased from $700 to $1,245 in recent years. While the Survivor Act allocated $6 million over two years to address the backlog of rape kits, Stein asked for an additional $9 million to continue to send older kits to the national testing center.

He also asked for salaries for 12 more scientists at the state crime lab, including six who specialize in DNA analysis, to keep up with the demand of newer kits.

But survivors noted that the kits are more than just evidence. Ms. Linda, a woman only identified by her first name, praised the Survivor Act, but urged law enforcement to continue this work.

"We must be diligent as we strive to protect the rights of victims," Linda said. "We should not ever allow rape kits to remain untested. Do not shelve human beings."

Stein said with the additional funds, he expects the state to make it through the remaining backlog of kits by May 2023.
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