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Rape Kit Backlogs Discovered in Four More U.S. Cities

Few states and no federal agencies require that law enforcement track or count the untested rape kits in their storage facilities.

A New York charity benefiting victims of rape has uncovered rape kit backlogs in Las Vegas, Milwaukee, Seattle and Tulsa. The data, obtained through public records requests, shows that thousands of rape kits remain untested in police storage facilities across the country.

    • In Las Vegas, records show that of the 5,231 rape kits collected from 2004 to 2014, only 846 were sent to the lab, or 16 percent. This leaves at least 4,385 untested rape kits in Las Vegas police storage facilities.
    • Milwaukee reported 2,655 untested rape kits in its police storage facilities. As part of our request to Milwaukee, we also received data from the entire state of Wisconsin, as compiled by the state Attorney General’s Office. The office found 3,351 additional untested rape kits statewide (with 81 percent of jurisdictions reporting) giving the state a total of 6,006 untested rape kits in police storage facilities.
    • Seattle’s records show that of the 1,641 rape kits collected from 2004 to 2014, only 365, or 22 percent, were sent to the crime lab, meaning at least 1,276 untested rape kits remain in police storage facilities.
  • Tulsa reported 3,783 untested rape kits in its police storage facilities, dating from 1989 to 2011.

This shocking data was uncovered by Joyful Heart Foundation, whose mission is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

Accountability project

“This new data reminds us that we still have so much more to learn about the extent of the rape kit backlog in the United States. What we are finding is that the rape kit backlog exists in cities and states in every part of the country, and requires and deserves a national response,” said Sarah Tofte, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy. “We are grateful to these cities for sharing their data with us, and hope that now that they have counted their backlog, they will take steps to ensure all rape kits are tested, all leads are investigated, and justice is restored for survivors."

The data announced today is part of The Accountability Project, an initiative of Joyful Heart’s End the Backlog program to uncover the extent of the rape kit backlog in cities across the country. Through a pro bono partnership with Goodwin Procter LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, the initiative uses public records requests to ascertain the number of untested kits at police departments around the country.

Few states and no federal agencies require that law enforcement track or count the untested rape kits in their storage facilities. The Accountability Project seeks to bring greater transparency and accountability around rape kit testing practices nationwide.

The Joyful Heart Foundation was founded by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, who added, “To me, the rape kit backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard sexual assault in our society. A rape kit can bring justice, so often an integral part of a survivor's healing. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. Not testing the rape kits sends the opposite message. You, what happened to you, your case—none of it matters."

To learn more about The Accountability Project’s progress and to see available data, visit: ENDTHEBACKLOG.ORG.

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