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Report: At least 70k rape kits remain untested in U.S. police depts

A new investigation by the USA Today Media Network has found that at least 70,000 rape kits are lying untested in 1,000 U.S. police departments. The report also discovered police departments in 34 states have never taken an inventory of evidence lying untested on shelves, and police in 44 states lack guidelines of when to test rape kits. Reporter Steve Reilly from USA Today joins Hari Sreenivasan with more details about this story.

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  • HARI SREENIVASAN, PBS NEWSHOUR WEEKEND ANCHOR:

    When a woman reports a rape, soon after it occurs, authorities are able to get a rape kit — physical evidence extracted from the victim’s body which may contain the valuable DNA of the perpetrator. But what happens afterward?

    There have been stories over the years of cities like New York, Los Angeles and Detroit facing massive backlogs of untested rape kits. But this week, we learned this is a much bigger problem nationwide. A new investigation by the USA Today Media Network finds at least 70,000 rape kits remain untested in more than 1,000 different police departments. Keep in mind there are more than 18,000 different police departments around the country.

    Police departments in 34 states have never even taken an inventory of the evidence still sitting on the shelves untested, and police in 44 states have no guidelines of when to test rape kits.

    There are several reasons why, and to help us understand is reporter Steve Reilly from “USA Today.”

    So, it’s not just one newspaper. Tell us about how you pulled off this large scale investigation.

  • STEVE REILLY, USA TODAY:

    Exactly. Well, we surveyed law enforcement agencies as you said across the country and found figures that more than a la thousand law enforcement agencies were identified untested assault kits. Each of our broadcast and current partners investigated the issue in their own communities and we looked at the scope and breadth of this issue across the country.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    Aren’t all these entered into a state or a national database so that you can find say serial rapists across state lines.

  • STEVE REILLY:

    Exactly. That’s what many advocates are making the point about these days is the usefulness of state and federal DNA databases has grown drastically over just the past couple of decades. And this evidence is much more valuable and much more able to help law enforcement identify and apprehend suspects than it ever has been.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, important to remember, that even behind this 70,000 number, there’s a story, there’s a person behind each one of them. And this isn’t even the complete number. It could be much bigger than this.

  • STEVE REILLY:

    Absolutely. Like you said, we obtained data for about a thousand law enforcement agencies, and that’s a small portion of the nation’s 18,000 law enforcement agencies. No government entity has gone and comprehensively look at that. But like you said behind the figures, each kit is someone’s story and, you know, testing individual kits, you know, can mean a lot to a survivor of one of these incidents.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    And you document how some of these survivors, until these tests went through lived in fear, not knowing whether their predator was out there.

  • STEVE REILLY:

    When these kits aren’t tested, someone has gone through the terrible process of having these kits collected as the process can take up to four to six hours after an alleged assault to collect this evidence. And so, it’s very sensitive process, and it can — it can be difficult for some to hear that these kits aren’t being tested in some cases and it can mean just — it’s tremendously meaningful to have these cases resolved.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    So, one of the things the police departments are often likely to say is, hey, do you know what, as much as I’d like to have every one of these tested, it’s a thousand bucks a pop and I don’t have the funds. But your reporting points out that there have been funds allocated for this, they’re just not getting out there.

  • STEVE REILLY:

    Exactly. The funding has been there. It’s more a matter of really policy makers and leaders at the local and state level taking initiatives and pursuing first audits of the number of sexual assault kits they do have in evidence that haven’t been tested. And then second, reviewing and testing those that should be tested.

  • HARI SREENIVASAN:

    All right. Steve Reilly of the “USA Today” — speaking for more than 90 papers that launched this investigation — thanks so much for your time.

  • STEVE REILLY:

    Thank you so much.

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