LA Rape Kits Left to Rot

Elisabeth Garber-Paul

As a Law and Order: SVU junkie of sorts, I always assumed that there would be a sassy female detective pestering the crime lab to ensure that any sexual offender would be tracked down and reprimanded for their crime, making sure that every bit of evidence is tested. But when it comes to the handling of rape kits, life doesn’t always imitate television.

As a Law and Order: SVU junkie of sorts, I always assumed that there would be a sassy female detective pestering the crime lab to ensure that any sexual offender would be tracked down and reprimanded for their crime, making sure that every bit of evidence is tested. But when it comes to the handling of rape kits, life doesn’t always imitate television.

Not surprisingly, real-life police departments aren’t nearly as rigorous. According to a recent Human Rights Watch report, nearly 13,000 rape kits in Los Angeles County haven’t been tested. The rape kits—collections of physical evidence like semen, saliva and hair from the attacker, taken off victims during an exam that can last up to 6 hours—are a routine part of a rape report, and can be used by detectives to pair with DNA of previous offenders from data systems. But as long as they’re stuck in refrigerators, the cases are left unsolved.

Courtney Martin brought the issue to light in a post on Feministing.com today, after Sarah Tofte released the March 31 report, revealing that 12,669 rape kits in Los Angeles County have been left untested, 10 percent of which are for unsolved rapes by strangers. In addition, 499 of the kits are over 10 years old, therefore past the statute of limitations—even if they positively identified an attacker, it would be too late to prosecute.

According to the report, California law states that the Police and Sheriff’s departments must notify the victim of a stranger rape case if the kit isn’t tested within two years. However, there has been little evidence that the agencies have done so. “Top treatment providers and advocates in the Los Angeles area could not recall ever hearing of a victim being informed about the testing status of her rape kit.”

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LA County law enforcement officials say they’re going to try and eliminate the backlog, but Tofte insists that it will take an initiative from LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has so far declined to meet with HRC. Maybe it’s time for Olivia Benson’s West-Coast transfer—if only she existed outside of a fictionalized New York.

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