Community Issues

Pennsylvania Dramatically Reduces Rape Kit Testing Backlog

But there are still hundreds of untested kits out there. How you can speak out.

Every time an untested rape kit sits on a shelf somewhere, a rapist who could be caught and put in jail is still out there.

That's why this news is a big deal. Pennsylvania has reduced its backlog of untested rape kits by nearly 90% in three years, according to Auditor General Eugene DePasquale. Rape kits are considered backlogged if they've been held by police for more than a year. The AG says about 340 kits still need to be tested, but that's down from more than 3,200 that were backlogged as recently as 2015. That was the year that the General Assembly passed a law required timely testing of rape kits.

"The backlog is a reflection of how we regard sexual assault and its victims in this country." Actress Mariska Hargitay, founder of the advocacy group End the Backlog

Pennsylvania State Police played a big part in reducing the backlog. Their forensics team completed the testing of more than 1100 kits in 2018 and reduced the PSP's backlog from 390 kits to zero. "I commend the Pennsylvania State Police for its commitment to ending the backlog of untested rape kits," said Gov. Tom Wolf.

Pennsylvania picked up the pace of testing after a 2015 law ordering it.

When rape kits go untested, it not only affects the ability of police to catch or prosecute a rapist in that case, it allows the rapist to rape again. Police also miss the opportunity to connect one rape to others through a nationwide DNA database. "For every untested kit there is both a victim without resolution in their respective case and an unknown perpetrator who could be identified," said Jennifer Storm, Victim Advocate for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

"It is unconscionable to think of evidence just lying around untested that could lead to justice." Jennifer Storm, Victim Advocate

The group End The Backlog estimates the nationwide backlog of untested rape kits at hundreds of thousands, but says no one knows for sure, since there's no comprehensive, national data. Click on their website to see how states, including Pennsylvania, measure up, and click here to find out how to get involved in their effort.

There are no centralized, national statistics on how many rape kits are untested.

End the Backlog was founded by Mariska Hargitay, star of Law and Order: SVU who calls the backlog, and the destruction of old rape kits "outrageous" and "shameful."

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