Thousands of untested rape kits sit in evidence rooms in NC

Posted February 28, 2018 3:44 p.m. EST
Updated February 28, 2018 6:37 p.m. EST

— Law enforcement agencies across North Carolina have more than 15,000 rape kits in evidence that have never been tested, according to a report released Wednesday.

A provision in the state budget passed last summer called for the State Crime Lab to collect data from police departments and sheriff's offices statewide on how many rape kits were sitting untested on shelves in evidence rooms, including the reasons they haven't been tested.

Authorities provided no reason for the lack of testing for about half of the 15,160 untested kits at the end of 2017. In 3,820 of the cases, the sexual assault allegations were determined to be unfounded, while charges had been resolved – either through conviction or dismissal – in another 2,741. Suspects in 1,054 cases admitted to the sexual contact, so there was no reason to test the kit, and 390 victims wished to remain anonymous and didn't want to file a police report.

"Now we have an inventory, and it's a big number. It's too many kits that are untested," Attorney General Josh Stein said in announcing the results of the report. "What we now need to develop is strategy for testing those kits so we can bring closure for victims, we can solve cold cases, we can punish offenders, we can prevent future crime. We need to bring justice to these victims of crime."

Stein, whose office oversees the State Crime Lab, called for testing all rape kits now in law enforcement custody by sending kits that are more than a year old to private labs so the crime lab in Raleigh and the new Western Crime Lab in Edneyville can focus on more recent cases.

Testing the kits will cost an estimated $10.6 million.

Stein also called for developing a statewide system to track rape kits. Idaho has developed a system using bar codes and tracking numbers, for example, that allows both victims and law enforcement agencies to check on the status of testing.

"If we put a barcode on the kit, then we can track that kit through the evidence collection process and have the certainty in knowing that the test was done," he said.

Victim advocates said bringing more attention to the backlog of untested rape kits has been years in the making.

"How do we create a system so that, once the evidence is collected, victims have a sense of where their evidence is, what's happening to it and then what's the final outcome?" said Monika Johnson Hostler, executive director of the North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault.