Thursday, April 30, 2009

Why aren't we testing rape kits?

by Thúy-Lan Võ Lite

Rape itself is an indescribable offense; the process of producing a “rape kit” thereafter seems only to add to the violation. As Nicholas D. Kristof writes here, “When a woman reports a rape…[s]he is typically asked to undress over a large sheet of white paper to collect hair or fibers, and then her body is examined with an ultraviolet light, photographed and thoroughly swabbed for the rapist’s DNA.” To add insult to twofold injury, these rape kits, Kristof reports, are often checked belatedly or not at all.

Leaving the rape kits untested – there are 12,669 rape kits idling in police storage in LA alone, according to Sarah Tofte for the Human Rights Watch – means, of course, that rapists are going unpunished. It means that in the interim between raping someone and being identified, a criminal can rape more women (or men). It means that sometimes, by the time a kit is tested, the statue of limitations has expired and the egregious crime remains unpunished indefinitely.

The underlying message to the delayed testing of rape kits is that rape isn’t serious. As Polly Poskin, executive director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, states, “If you’ve got stacks of physical evidence of a crime, and you’re not doing everything you can with the evidence, then you must be making a decision that this isn’t a very serious crime.” Leaving the kits sitting on shelves frustratingly undermines the trauma that rape produces—what an insult to the victims!

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