Money to help with backlog of rape kits

Money to help with backlog of rape kits
Texas Tribune
Monday, August 5, 2013 - 7:25pm

Thousands of evidence kits collected from rape victims that have sat untested for years in Texas can now be analyzed, thanks to an $11 million budget appropriation earmarked for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

The line-item financing disbursement was passed as part of the state’s biennial budget during the regular 83rd legislative session. It follows the 2011 approval of related legislation filed by state Sen. Wendy Davis, D-Fort Worth.

Senate Bill 1636 requires that the DPS or a contractor test and keep information on forensic sexual-assault evidence that the department has received from other law enforcement agencies but has not been submitted for analysis, provided financing is available.

SB 1636 also requires that when requested, the department compare results from a newly tested rape kit with DNA information in the department’s custody.

The number of untested kits is unclear. Advocacy groups say that about 16,000 kits are sitting on shelves, according to data submitted by 136 law enforcement agencies across the state. But the DPS estimates that the number is closer to 20,000. Department officials say their information comes from various law enforcement agencies, which may use different formulas to determine how many kits they have, thus leading to a discrepancy.

law enforcement agencies that there was insufficient cause to test a kit.

Tom Vinger, a department spokesman, said untested kits were not analyzed for several reasons, depending on what an individual law enforcement agency’s criteria were. The bill does not affect evidence gathered before September 1996.

The financing is a welcome start that will go a long way, supporters say.

“Without a doubt, there will be cases solved that were previously unsolved,” said Torie Camp, the deputy director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault. “Ten to 30 percent will come back with a positive hit.”

A positive hit could lead to the identification of a person whose information is in the database or it could point to a specific suspect.

The DPS estimates that at least half the kits will yield evidence that could be used to solve crimes.

While the financing is a step toward resolution for many victims of sexual assaults, Camp said it was only one part of the puzzle.

"We’re creating a new backlog of more cases,” she said. “The best way to say this is, this is just the first part of the backlog.”

Similar efforts have yielded positive results.

The Fort Worth Police Department received a grant in 2003 that allowed it to test unanalyzed rape kits. It yielded 214 matches in an FBI DNA database, resulting in the identification of three suspects who were later accused of being serial rapists, according to the Texas Senate Research Center.

The Number of Untested Rape Kits By DPS Lab Region

Source: Texas Association Against Sexual Assault

DPS Lab Region

Estimated No. of Untested Kits

Austin 3176
Corpus Christi 370
El Paso 54
Garland 3593
Houston 6866
Lubbock 1638
Weslaco 129
Waco 650

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