What's Being Done To Address The Country's Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits Tens of thousands of rape kits sit, untested, in evidence rooms. While a new push to clear the backlog has brought urgency the issue, what's taken so long — and why does it exist in the first place?

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What's Being Done To Address The Country's Backlog Of Untested Rape Kits

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Across the country, sitting in police evidence rooms are tens of thousands of rape kits waiting to be tested. Some have been sitting there for years. But a national push to address the backlog has given the issue a sense of urgency.

To find out what kind of progress has been made, we reached out to Becca O'Connor. She's vice president for public policy at the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, one of the groups spearheading the effort.

Becca, thanks so much for being with us.

BECCA O'CONNOR: Thanks for having me. It's my pleasure.

MARTIN: Explain why these kits were not being tested.

O'CONNOR: So 10 or 15 years ago, the DNA technology wasn't in the same place where it is today, first of all. We now are able to pull much more out of a rape kit through DNA testing than we may have been able to in the past.

And beyond that, there was also a different mentality around these crimes. You know, for many people, the belief was that these were stranger-perpetrated crimes, where you have someone leap out of the bushes, and we know better now. And we have more of a push and an inclination to test, even in acquaintance cases because we know that these are serial offenders that are likely to strike again.

MARTIN: How much does it cost to process a rape kit?

O'CONNOR: The average is between $400 and $1,200.

MARTIN: So it's a big hit for cities, especially if they have a big backlog.

O'CONNOR: It can be, but it depends on what exactly they're planning to test out of that kit. But it's something that, you know, cost is outweighed by the benefit, we believe.

MARTIN: So even if there was no value to the specific case, you're saying that there is still value in testing a kit because of another crime that that perpetrator might commit.

O'CONNOR: Exactly. And over time, the other thing that's evolved, of course, is the CODIS, a national database run by the FBI which holds offender samples. And so as that's grown, we have more, basically, things to check against.

MARTIN: And are there examples of finding someone - a perpetrator who committed another crime because of a positive ID with a rape kit?

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. So for instance, there's a woman named Natasha Alexenko who's a survivor with whom I work, where she learned, only after they finally tested her kit years later, that the individual who assaulted her had committed other crimes.

MARTIN: There's been federal legislation to address the backlog as far back as 2000. So why is it still a problem?

O'CONNOR: You know, we talk about the backlog in this generic terminology. And it's important to point out that, you know, for the Department of Justice and others, a backlogged kit is one that is sitting at a crime lab and waiting to be tested. And as we've been talking about, we know that many of these kits never make it to that stage. They sit in evidence rooms. So there's this education that needs to happen.

That said, we do have this challenge of creating a system where victims feel comfortable coming forward and submitting themselves to these exams in the wake of what's likely the worst trauma of their lives. If I'm a survivor and I'm seeing headlines that say that my kit is likely going to sit and collect dust somewhere, where's my incentive to come forward? I think that's one of the things that we're seeing shift as more and more states step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to clear their backlogs.

MARTIN: As you mentioned, there is some movement here. Some states have really taken this on. Last week, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey announced he's forming a task force to find and test old kits. Kentucky is pressing ahead with a bill that requires rape kits to be tested within 30 days of collection, I believe. I imagine this is encouraging news to you.

O'CONNOR: It absolutely is. And what's really, really encouraging, as I talk to lawmakers across the country and in the federal government, is that people are starting to have these aha moments and realizing that, first of all, it's OK to raise your hand and say - we may have a problem here, and we want to get to the bottom of it. You know, there's no finger-pointing at this point.

What's really been amazing, even in just the three years that I've been working on this issue, is the shift and the desire to be proactive rather than just reactive to the issue.

MARTIN: Becca O'Connor of the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, thanks so much for talking with us.

O'CONNOR: Absolutely. Thank you so much.

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