January 11, 2016; WKMS Radio (Murray, KY)
In our continued coverage of the national push to fully address the rape kit backlog, we have seen some states and cities that have a proven dedication and serve as models testing unprocessed rape kits, like Memphis, Houston, and Detroit. Legislators in Kentucky are trying to make the same commitment to ending the backlog by proposing a bill that would require police departments to submit rape kit for testing within 30 days and also inform the victim throughout the process where his or her kit is in testing. Police departments would also not be permitted to destroy the rape kits.
Democratic Senator Denise Harper Angel, who proposed the bill, calls it “absolutely necessary,” noting that Kentucky would be one of the first, if not the first, state to enact such time restrictions on rape kit testing. “Any victim of rape needs to know and deserves to know that their test is going to be tested and we have to get criminals off the streets.” According to a recent state audit last year, Kentucky has 3,090 untested kits. Rape kits take on average eight months to be tested. Moreover, 41 percent of police departments don’t submit rape kits at all. In the eight or so months that a test is detained, it’s possible the offender will go on to reoffend, endangering others.
Naturally, these issues are not limited to Kentucky; rather, police departments across the country experience these problems. In a recent story, a victim of an alleged sexual assault is taking matters into her own hands after the San Francisco police department repeatedly failed to test her rape kit in a timely manner.
Heather Marlowe was allegedly raped in 2010, but six years later, she still doesn’t know if her rape kit was ever tested or is still sitting somewhere in an evidence locker. Last Friday, she filed a federal lawsuit alleging her constitutional rights were violated because San Francisco did not abide by the Equal Protection Clause. According to Marlowe’s attorney, not testing her rape kit amounted to gender discrimination on the part of the city.
According to Marlowe’s complaint, the nurse who conducted her rape kit told Marlowe that she would receive the results of the kit within 14 to 60 days. Marlowe repeatedly followed up with the police department, but, according to her complaint, she was either told the test would be read “any day now” or was told to follow up in six months. In 2014, an audit performed by the city found thousands of untested kits, despite the city’s assurances it had no such backlog. Last summer, S.F. police chief Greg Suhr refused to apply for grants to test the backlogged kits because his crime lab was “maxed out” and had other organizational issues it needed to work on before taking this on.
The perpetrators from the kits older than 10 years officially cannot be prosecuted due to the statute of limitations, but the district attorney and advocacy groups said they believed testing the kits regardless would send a powerful message to victims.
It’s understandable that the S.F. police chief, like other department leaders around the country, would want to save their manpower for cases that can actually be prosecuted. The decision and the attitude behind the decision is one we have seen before. Despite advances in victim services and the continued evolution of how society views sexual assault, these cases illustrate the continued inequity between rape and other crimes.
Whether or not Marlowe’s complaint has merit, her allegations are not unique or singular. They demonstrate why states like Kentucky need to institute a strict time limit on testing rape kits. It seems the very absence of a time limit allows police departments to not only keep victims in the dark, but also remain immune to scrutiny. Without standard and strict procedures, there can be no accountability. In the interest of helping other victims find closure, it may behoove other states and cities to adopt similar measures as that proposed by Senator Angel.—Shafaq Hasan