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There’s only so much you can cover in an hour. Early drafts of my lecture on sexual assault included a rant on rape kit testing, and it’s not hard to see why.

… police departments have been found to destroy records and ignore or mishandle evidence, which leads not only to undercounting but dismissal of cases. Many of the jurisdictions showing consistent undercounting are also, unsurprisingly, those with rape kit backlogs (there are more than 400,000 untested kits in the United States). Many cities and states don’t even keep accurate track of the number of rape exams or of kits languishing, expired or in storerooms—but when they do, the numbers improve. The arrest rate for sex assault in New York City went from 40 percent to 70 percent after the city successfully processed an estimated 17,000 kits in the early 2000s. However, it is only in the past year, after embarrassing and critical news coverage, that most departments have begun to process backlogs. After being publicly shamed for having abandoned more than 11,000 rape kits, the Michigan State Police began testing them, identifying 100 serial rapists as a result.

There’s some follow-up on that last item.

In Michigan, the Detroit kits make up the majority of those awaiting testing. To date, the largest backlog by far remains in Wayne County, where 10,000 of the 11,341 kits found in 2009 have been tested or are in the process of being tested. As of July 10, Detroit’s kit-testing initiative identified 2,478 suspects — including 456 serial rapists identified as of June 30 — and 20 convictions have been secured.

While it’s great to see justice served, take a step back and think about this. This one county managed to process 10,000 rape kits within a year or two; that means they’re quick to process. Those kits identified serial criminals and even in that short span generated 20 convictions; that means they are invaluable tools of law enforcement, an easy way to score convictions, keep the streets safe, and generate some good publicity.

But not only was this goldmine left to rot and grow since the 1980’s, it was discovered in 2009; in other words, even when they were aware of these kits and knew how valuable they were, they waited five years until they were embarrassed into action by the press.

This is one aspect of rape culture: the systematic devaluation of sexual assault victims, to the point that we blind ourselves to widespread injustice.

“This is not just an issue impacting Detroit or Wayne County,” [Shanon Banner, Michigan State Police manager of public affairs] said. “Everyone should care.”

[HJH 2015-07-19] USA Today was one of the first to break this story, and they have a follow-up too.

Testing by Cleveland-area prosecutors linked more than 200 alleged serial rapists to 600 assaults. Statewide, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s effort to collect and test sexual assault kits has resulted in at least 2,285 CODIS hits so far.

In Houston, analysis of about 6,600 untested rape kits resulted in about 850 matches, 29 prosecutions and six convictions.

And, since the Colorado Bureau of Investigation began requiring police statewide to submit sexual assault kits for testing last year, more than 150 matches have been found.

Despite those successes, many police agencies haven’t changed their policies.

In New York state, law enforcement agencies outside of New York City are under no legal requirement to test rape evidence. No state law exists requiring agencies to track how many untested kits are stored in their evidence rooms.

New York is one of 44 states with no law stipulating when police should test rape kits and 34 states that haven’t conducted a statewide inventory. […]

Interviews with law enforcement officials, and a review of police records obtained by USA TODAY, reveal sexual-assault-kit testing is often arbitrary and inconsistent among law enforcement agencies — and even within agencies.

In Jackson, Tenn., for example, notations in evidence records show contradictory reasons as to why rape kits were not tested. In some cases, the Jackson Police Department did not test evidence because the suspect’s identity was already known, records show. In 13 other cases since 1998, records show police decided not to test kits because there was “no suspect” or “no known suspect,” even though testing the kits could help identify a suspect. […]

Some government officials and researchers have faulted police for a predisposition to doubt survivors’ stories.

“The fact is that often rape kits are unsubmitted for testing because of a blame-the-victim mentality or because investigators mistrust the survivor’s story,” Illinois Attorney General Madigan told a U.S. Senate subcommittee at a hearing in May. “This outdated way of thinking must change.”

After more than 10,000 untested sexual assault kits were discovered in Detroit in 2008, a landmark study funded by the Justice Department faulted police for “negative, victim‐blaming beliefs.”

“Rape survivors were often assumed to be prostitutes and therefore what had happened to them was considered to be their own fault,” researchers from Michigan State University wrote in their analysis of Detroit’s rape investigations.

Welcome to rape culture.

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