It's probably safe to say there are serial rapists roaming free in America and it's our own justice system's fault.
Pretty provocative statement, right? Well, it is meant to be.
Recent reports from the National Institute of Justice, Human Rights Watch and others confirm many hundreds of thousands of rape victim's worst nightmares. Their DNA rape kits, collected in the hours after their painful and humiliating assaults, were never even tested. The kits have been ignored and still sit on freezer shelves in crime labs all across America. They wait for a technician to conduct the tests that will reveal a criminal's biological identity.
To be fair, some of the cases represented by the more than 400,000 backlog rape kits have been solved through confessions, eye-witness testimony or some other investigative means. But if labs went ahead and processed those kits they might very well be able to connect other unsolved rapes to the same criminal.
Rape is often a serial crime. One rapist can be responsible for dozens of attacks. In one often quoted study forty-one known serial rapists were found responsible for 837 rapes and over 400 attempted rapes.
But back to those kits. A majority of the untested are orphaned tests. They've remained on ice, depriving detectives of the most important clue. And in the most maddening development, a great number of them are approaching expired status. That is to say, the statute of limitations soon runs out on them and the kit's results won't be admissible in court.
Victims in most states will never know if their evidence was tested. They'll be left to assume the silence from police means their kit simply did not yield any helpful information. What awful payback for their painful determination to go to the hospital and submit to the long and very invasive testing procedure. Victims usually go in wearing what they had on during the attack and leave in a hospital gown because their clothes are supposed to be scoured for evidence. It is all part of the rape kit.
So, why has this been allowed to happen? The answer is that there is no good answer! There seems to be plenty of federal money available, so much so that many states report they haven't even spent all of last year's allotment. See how frustrating all this is?
In 2004, the President signed The Debbie Smith Act which appropriated at least 151 million dollars a year to a nationwide DNA rape kit backlog program. The namesake, a Virginia police officer's wife, who had been kidnapped from her kitchen in 1989, dragged into the woods and raped as her husband napped upstairs. Her attacker left Debbie by saying, "Remember, I know where you live and I will come back and kill you if you tell anyone." Debbie Smith fought back, submitting to the testing, believing it would help catch her rapist. It took six years before her kit was analyzed. When the results were finally run through a database and the perp discovered Debbie realized she could have felt safe years earlier. Her attacker was already in prison serving time for kidnapping and robbing two other women.
I've done a lot of research on this issue, trying hard to understand how we got to this place. Over the last four years Congress has allocated hundreds of millions of dollars for these backlog DNA tests, to identify more criminals and get them off the street. I could quote many more statistics and reasons why states say they haven't gotten the testing done -- excuses that range from bureaucratic problems to not enough qualified DNA technicians -- but that's not the point. To me, if there's even one rape kit left ignored on a freezer shelf that's one too many. There is no excuse except indifference. That's just not acceptable.
If it were your daughter, your wife, your sister, your mother -- and yes even your son, husband, brother or father (about 10% are male victims) -- who was awaiting such an important test result wouldn't you expect better from the justice system?
As I sit here writing this I am alone in my home office. The sun is setting and my husband is at work. I've had to pause to go make sure all my doors and windows are locked. I suddenly realize how many of us teeter on the edge of feeling safe. When we're the victims of some awful calamity we find peace in the knowledge that someday the perpetrator will be found and justice will prevail.
Not so for all those victims still waiting for their rape kits to be tested. And consider this: Every year some 200,000 Americans report they have been raped. And rape is considered the number one most under-reported crime.
Diane Dimond's website is: www.DianeDimond.net. She can be contacted at Diane@DianeDimond.net