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Week of 8.21.09

Justice Delayed

How a backlog of crucial evidence is denying justice for tens of thousands of rape victims.

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A terrible statistic: one in six women will be a victim of rape or attempted rape in her lifetime. But an even more shocking reality: A backlog in processing rape kits—crucial evidence in arresting violent predators—is delaying and sometimes denying justice for tens of thousands of American women.

The Weekly Q
This week, NOW travels to Los Angeles County to investigate why it has the country's largest known rape kit backlog. An internal audit found that more than 50 of their cases have already exceeded the 10-year statute of limitations on rape.

"The evidence that we're talking about represents human lives," Los Angeles Controller Laura Chick tells NOW. "Those are lives stacked up on the shelves waiting for justice."

NOW talks with courageous rape survivors and law enforcement experts for insight and answers in this disturbing report. Are these women being victimized twice?

This show was originally broadcast on April 24, 2009.

Related Links and Resources

RAINN: What should I do if I am sexually assaulted?, advice from the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network on what to do immediately after an attack.

Web Features

A Rape Survivor's Story
Michelle C. shares her traumatic experience as a victim of rape.

Rape Counseling Resources
Find resources in your state dedicated to helping victims of sexual violence.

Slide Show: My LAPD Ride-Along
NOW Field Producer Brian Epstein travels with the LAPD as they track down a suspected rapist.
Human Rights Watch: Testing Justice, a report on the rape kit backlog in Los Angeles city and county.

An Abuse, Rape, and Domestic Violence Aid and Resource Collection, offers extensive information, legal advice, and FAQ's on domestic violence, stalking, and sexual harassment. Anti-violence Resources, offers support for women, resource contact information, and opportunities for activism in anti-violence campaigns.

Office for Victims of Crime Resource Center, research, statistics, and information from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Peace Over Violence, is an organization that has made "tremendous strides in working to end violence" and has "extensive prevention programs that educate young people about healthy relationships," according to spokeswoman Calista Flockhart.

Witness Justice, provides support and advocacy for victims of trauma by helping victims find safety, counseling, and ways to gain legal rights.

Life Now: Women and Men in the 21st Century

Viewer Comments

Commenter: Jennifer
Sounds to me like they need some help to get rid of the backlog. I'm sure (myself included) that there are thousands of folks who would jump at the opportunity to have a JOB like that. Hmmm, too much sense, perhaps.

Commenter: Spectator
It's always easy to point a finger at the backlog and say, "thousands of rape kits never got worked! These are human beings!" but how about also focusing on WHY these rape kits weren't processed?? Do you know how much time and resources are needed in order to test a rape kit? Has it ever occurred to you that perhaps these rape kits aren't being tested right away because the LAPD has NO MONEY to hire Forensic Analysts or send these rape kits to vendor labs for testing??
Stop blaming the law enforcement and start talking about what needs to be done so that law enforcement can do its job.

Commenter: Kiernan Holland
The solution I think to this is to permit the rape victim to notified of the location in the process.. If the kit is not being tested, permit the repe victim to expedite the testing by paying for the process.

I know that sounds bad, but if you are concerned about justice for a crime committed against you, you should be able to control the process.

Commenter: ben munguia
hello, because of your report i have caused our mayors office to look into our untested rape kits here in houston.

but no one here knows about any congressional funding that has been allocated and distributed towards getting the rape kits tested, as your report suggests.

i can likely contact my congressman but can you provide more data regarding who at congress or how the money is flagged for this issue. thanks

Commenter: Emily Murphy
Hello. I was really impressed by your recent airing of Justice Delayed. I work as an Educator at a rape crisis center, and the public really doesn't know how insidious and prevalent sexual violence is. Could you expand your coverage of this topic and look at how public misunderstanding of sexual violence is such a huge part of the issue? Looking at the messages in the media that perpetuate rape myths and even make us very rape tolerant is crucial to primary prevention of this type of violence(e.g., take pornography - both the "soft core" and the "gonzo" - how pornography in general has become so much more mainstream, just as the more violent and hateful versions have become more extreme). thank you for the good work you do!

Commenter: goedel
This is a country that is technically bankrupt; that is, without foreign creditors the US could not meet its current operating expenses and certainly not meet its current obligations to its citizens. It would be in patent default on everything.

The nation's economy is so strapped by unemployment, consumer and mortgage debt, local and state government budgetary instability that it should come at no surprise that state and local governments do not meet their obligations in protecting the public. It would be amazing if we were to learn that police departments, prosecutors, public defenders, fire departments, schools and public works departments were functioning as they should and not concealing vast areas of fiscally enforced neglect. Rape kits are not examined? Would you prefer that there be no backlog and instead have no responders when you have just been beaten and robbed?

You have to choose: you want to be an empire? Then you must suffer the fate of empires!

Commenter: Good news from Toronto, Canada

Just want to let you know that there are so many DNA specialists have nothing to do in Toronto. They lost their jobs for over 6 months here.

If you set up/reactivate a rape kit lab in Toronto, you could hire 200 professionals in first day and another 500 in line waiting for the job. And they are experienced Biologist with a respectable University Master Degree(s).

Do it now.

Best regards,


Commenter: howard goodman
How many off duty police women get raped?

If you leftist ceepish pseudojournalists would get over your anti gun bias and report factually on the gun issue as relating to crime stats, ther'd probably be a lot more women ccp holders and a lot fewer rape kits that need testing.

Commenter: Marcella Chester
As a rape survivor and someone who volunteered for over 9 years as a volunteer on my local rape crisis line, and who has been in the room while rape victims endured the long and sometimes painful process of have evidence collected for the rape kit, I understand why this subject is so important and why the backlog does reflect on attitudes about the crime of rape.

Despite what some people assume, acquaintance rapes are not as a group likely impossible to prosecute when all the evidence is processed and the cases are judged on all of the credible evidence including examining how the rape victim allegedly consented. This assumption does cause many acquaintance rape cases to go uninvestigated or to be under investigated.

Some rapists attack strangers, near strangers and those who are close to them. If the rape kits in all of these cases were processed then an unmatched DNA would be linked to the owner of that DNA. That rapist might not be held legally accountable for all of those rapes, but that rapist could be held legally responsible for some of the rapes.

Commenter: Dismayed Scientist
I've watched Now for years and have never written a disparaging word about it, but this was some of the worst journalism I've ever seen. If only 25% of rape kits are from stranger rape cases, then 75% have a known assailant and the running of the kit is based on the potential for prosecution as determined by the DA's office. It was also stated that only 10% of the LA backlog was from stranger rapes, which given the budget and staffing shortfalls is quite understandable. Frankly testing samples in cases that conviction is likely impossible is a misuse of tax dollars. These tax dollars would be far better spent on crime prevention initiatives.

There was never a reporting of what was the percentage of conviction for cases in which DNA evidence was available (let alone instrumental in identification or conviction the assailant). The rate is not as high as you'd think (CSI is not the real world). DNA in rape kits is evidence of sex, but not lack of consent. The burden of proof is rightly on the state and lack of consent is quite hard to prove. The admirable efforts of police and prosecutors are often disparaged by well-intentioned, but misguided populist outrage such as this report.

Though I can sympathize with the emotional impact on victims undergoing DNA testing and later hearing the sample has not yet been tested, there was nothing in the Now report that suggests the police did anything wrong given the difficulty in budget and staffing criminology labs. The fault for such lies with voters and elected officials who consistently shortchange public safety and education efforts in the interests of populist tax policy. In the past, municipalities have been attacked for having backlogs of fingerprint evidence. To appease the outrage, politicians (sheriffs, mayors, etc.) often changed the policies to get rid of the backlog. The solution all too often was to stop taking fingerprint evidence at crime scenes except for the most heinous of crimes. In San Francisco, police policy for automotive break-ins and smaller thefts is to take a statement by phone. They not only do not collect any forensic evidence, but they never even send an officer to the crime scene. By not collecting evidence, costs are saved and backlogs avoided. However, I'm certain the police are doing the best they can with the limited available funds and our CA prisons are already overflowing with convicts. The injustice in SF, LA, and across CA was committed by the 1978 voters for Prop 13.

The larger question of why rape and other sex crimes (largely against women and children) are so common in our society was completely ignored. The fact that 75% of rape cases were non-stranger rapes is particularly disturbing given that non-stranger rapes are very under-reported. I think that targeting public outrage against the police departments and criminologists is foolish and potentially dangerous. The far better approach would be to try to get people to take a hard look at themselves and see why violence against women and children is so prevalent in our society.

Commenter: DNA Analyst
As a female DNA analyst, I resent the insinuation that female vicitms are not treated as equals. All violent crimes are equal. That includes not only rape, but also homicides and assault and batteries. The number of the crimes committed daily outnumber the number of cases DNA anlaysts can complete. At my lab, we have 4 positions we'd like to fill, but are not allowed because of state budget cuts to law enforcement. DNA is the evidence everyone wants, and expects.

As a DNA analyst, I want everyone to know that we are doing this job because we want to help victims. We are not paid alot of money, and do not receive many accolades. We simply want to help. We do our best, and yet get hammered by shows where the only commentary is from people who don't know how the forensic DNA laboratory works. It would be more informational to everyone if the people you accuse of not doing their job were able to speak. Harping on how terrible we is not constructive or informative. Maybe some true journalism should be done, instead of creative writing.

Commenter: Andrea
I remember in Minneapolis in 1990 - there was a police detective who was fired because he protested the police department's automatic filing of rape cases as "unsolvable". The media coverage focused entirely on the firing of this man, depicting him as a hero, but made no comment on (let alone do an investigation of) the outrageous practice he was protesting. The local media must have received complaints because in follow-up reports, they added as a "p.s." that the department said they stopped filing rape cases as automatically unsolvable. But they were simply taking the department's word on that. The main story continued to be the man and his "sacrifice" for women. In my opinion, he and all others who do their job and stand up for what is right in the face of retaliation are indeed heros. What I don't get is why the media considered him a hero if they thought rape was so unimportant that the issue wasn't even worth investigating?

It seems from your report that change is happening only very slowly. What excellent show this was, though. That is at least one of the changes we can point to. At least somewhere in the media this issue is taken seriously.

Commenter: Ayman Hossam Fadel
An extremely disturbing show. The real world is not like Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Perhaps I misunderstood, but is one of the causes of the backlog a shortage of trained personnel to test the kits?

If so, perhaps NOW's website could include links to where people could pursue this lab work as a career.

Commenter: Donald Barre
I was horrified by the backlog of rape kits. But I was truly inspired by the courage shown by Michelle C. I am grateful to her for sharing her story.

Commenter: Edward
Why did this story not address the issue of evidence triage? If the defendant is known and the case results in a guilty plea prior to testing, then the testing of the kit would be of lower priority than the testing of other kits. Wouldn't it? Have none of these police departments done this?

Commenter: leila dj poullada
What are the educational and experience requirements for DNA lab testers and analyists. How are they paid and is the slow pace of processing and perhaps cost due to insufficient numbers of skilled lab technicians? this was an excellent program.

Justice Delayed

A Rape Survivor's Story

In Your State: Rape Counseling Resources

Slide Show: My LAPD Ride-Along

How to Prepare and Protect Your Child

Reporter's Notebook: Maria Hinojosa

Notable Women: Advice to Generation Next

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