Thousands of rape kits go untested in North Carolina

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Thursday, March 1, 2018
Thousands of rape kits go untested in North Carolina
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More than 15,000 rape kits collected from victims of sexual assault are waiting to be tested.

More than 15,000 rape kits collected from victims of sexual assault are waiting to be tested at law enforcement agencies across North Carolina.

On Wednesday, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called it a problem.

"In order to solve it we have to understand how big it is," said Stein. "And now we have a sense that it's pretty big and we have a lot of hard work ahead of us."


Stein, along with John Byrd, the Director of the State Crime Lab, revealed the results of a state-mandated inventory in which 92 percent of law enforcement agencies responded. At the end of 2017, there were 15,160 untested rape kits in North Carolina.

The survey required authorities to count and then place the kits into one of five categories for why they were not tested.

RELATED: Fact sheet and collection kit tracking system (.pdf)

The reasons for not testing the kits ranged from the suspect admitting guilt to what Stein called a "catch all" category in which nearly half the tests- 7,545- were labeled.

"What I suspect happened is that a law enforcement agency looked at their kit and didn't feel like any one category precisely met that definition," he said. "Or, it may have been in more than one category and they didn't want to double count it."


A sexual assault kit can include one or all of the following: a victim's hair, under garments, blood sample, cheek scraping, rectal and vaginal swabs.

Of the more than 15,000 untested rape kits, agencies report 390 have gone untested because the victim wished to remain anonymous and did not report the incident to authorities.

"Those kits are there for a reason," said Monika Johnson Hostler, Executive Director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault. "It allows us the option for victims to decide to come forward because they are making a life changing decision to move forward to make public what happened to them."

Johnson Hostler said having the numbers from the inventory is the first essential step in getting victims justice.

"It is not an easy decision, nor is it a easy process for a victim to walk through so it is important that we acknowledge survivors have gone through a lot just to get to the place to actually allow their evidence to be in this box," she said.


Now, the Department of Justice is recommending three actions to prevent another backlog and essentially, end the need for an inventory:

1. Test all of the kits. Stein is recommending the General Assembly provide funding and create a special committee made up of law enforcement, prosecutors, representatives from the State Crime Lab, victim advocates, and criminal defense lawyers to decide how to prioritize the kits for testing.

2. Create a tracking system. Stein wants to implement a statewide tracking system of sexual assault kits; using barcodes, victim anonymity will be protected while allowing them to keep track of their kit.

3. Prevent another backlog. Stein recommends a protocol to test all sexual assault kits as they come into the crime lab.

"We have to send a strong message to victims, to criminals, to law enforcement, to advocates that we take the crime of sexual assault deadly seriously and we will do everything in our power to achieve justice for victims," said Stein.

Sen. Mike Woodard, (D), who served eight years as a sexual assault victim advocate, said he understands the urgency.

"There are hundreds, maybe even thousands of victims in our state who have not received the justice they should've gotten," he said. "So it is not just time, it is past time for us to get onto this and to help these victims receive the justice they should've gotten."


In 2017, Byrd said the State Crime Lab received about 450 rape kits and processed nearly all of them with a turnaround time of about 6-8 months.

There are two stages of analysis: determining whether there's DNA to be tested and then testing the DNA.

Tracking sexual assault collection kits. (Click the PDF link below to enlarge the image).
NC Attorney General's Office

RELATED: Fact sheet and collection kit tracking system (.pdf)

Byrd said there are 22 analysts on staff at the State Crime Lab in Raleigh with eight more in its regional lab in western North Carolina focused solely on examining sexual assault kits.

A new State Crime Lab office in Edneyville is set to open its DNA section in late spring that will further increase the lab's capacity for testing.

For now, any kits older than one year old, the DOJ is recommending outsourcing testing which Byrd said can cost about $700 per kit. The State Crime Lab has an existing appropriation of $250,000 to cover outsourcing.

"We're confident that we can handle the current flow of kits that are submitted each year with the existing staff," said Stein. "And to the extent we get ahead of the curve, we can start working on the backlog. But, we don't have the capacity to test all the kits with the staff that we have at the State Crime Lab."

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