My brother came running into our house last weekend, raving about a comedian that he said I just had to watch: Samantha Bee. So, naturally, I binge watched all of her shows on her website in one sitting. She's hilarious and is able to use her comedy to talk about issues that are pressing and often the farthest thing from funny. After I'd watched about ten different laugh-inducing presidential election videos, I came across one that horrified me. The episode from March 21st of this year was about the nation's rape kit backlog. Rather, it was about when rape kits across the country go untested and sit in storage rooms collecting dust, instead of collecting evidence that detectives and police officers can use to solve crimes.
For those who are unaware, a rape kit is a kit containing a checklist, materials, instructions, envelopes, and containers to collect specimens taken during a sexual assault forensic exam. The process of being examined, photographed, and prodded for evidence can take several hours.
Individuals who are sexually assaulted are then asked not to shower, use the restroom, or change their clothes to preserve the evidence and wait to be examined for hours out of hope that they will get justice for what was wrongfully done to them. We're letting these kits sit on shelves. I don't mean for weeks or months either, I mean for years.
In Nevada alone there are at least 7,500 untested rape kits sitting in police vaults. Las Vegas is in the top four US cities with the most untested kits, with about 5,600. Some have been awaiting testing for over 30 years. While it may be a little too late, last December, Nevada lawmakers decided to designate $3.7 million to test these kits, hopefully having them all completed by 2020. Other states, however, are not heading down the same road.
Every state has a rape kit backlog to attend to, but some states are even throwing rape kits away, often before they're tested. It is currently legal in every state in the United States to throw away a rape kit before the statute of limitations expires.
In Fayetteville, North Carolina, 333 rape kits were destroyed between 1995-2008 to make space in their evidence room. All kits from after December 17, 2008 are accounted for, but they have still victimized 333 people all over again by prohibiting them from receiving justice for the heinous crime committed against them.
From 2004-2012 in Salt Lake City, Utah, 163 rape kits were destroyed. This is a city whose rape statistics have been higher than the national average for 25 years. Of those, only 39 kits had been tested. We may think what a relief it is that some had been at least tested before being disposed of. Unfortunately, that isn't the way that it works. All 163 people, whether their kit was tested or not first, no longer have evidence to use if they decide to prosecute at a further date, which makes it even less likely that they will receive justice.
Recently, we've seen the way that the judicial system handles rape cases with DNA evidence from a rape kit. Rapist Brock Turner was charged with three felony counts of sexual assault and was only sentenced to six months in jail. While it was astounding how outraged most of America was at this lenient and despicable sentence, would they have been as horrified if she didn't have a rape kit and there were no witnesses? I hope so. I hope with all of my heart, but that's not what we have been trained to believe.
Growing up, I watched TV like a lot of children. Of the many shows that I did watch, "Degrassi" and "Veronica Mars" were at the top of the list.
In season two of "Degrassi," one of the main characters, a 14-year-old girl named Paige, is raped by a 17-year-old soccer player from another school. She takes the case to court and is asked belittling questions about how many men she had slept with before him. Afterwards, he is found not guilty and released to go on living his life.
In the first episode of "Veronica Mars," the audience learns that Veronica was drugged and raped at a party a few months prior. Her classmates vandalized her car with derogatory words only applicable to women and the sheriff laughed at her, made fun of her for crying, and told her to get a backbone. Her rapist was never convicted.
Now, you may think that these are just television shows. They're not real. Paige and Veronica might not be real people, but thousands of real people share their stories. The Atlantic called "Veronica Mars" "TV's Realest Depiction of Rape" in a 2013 article.
Most young children don't watch the news. TV shows and movies are where they absorb information. I absorbed the knowledge that if I ever was raped, I probably wouldn't get justice for the crime that was committed against me. That's horrible, but what's worse is that it's not too far from the truth.
Every two minutes, an American is sexually assaulted.
Out of every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free.
We are told over and over how common sexual assault and rape is. We are told how unlikely it will be that we receive justice if it were to happen to us. If it does happen to us, it's likely that we won't tell anyone because of this. Then, the ones who do go to the police and get rape kits in hopes of getting justice are essentially victimized all over again when they find out that their rape kit hasn't been tested or has been destroyed, if they are notified at all.
For more information on the rape kit backlog in your state and the steps that your officials are taking to end it, click here.
For more information on how you can help end the backlog, click here.
For the petition to remove Judge Aaron Perksy from the bench for Rapist Brock Turner's sentence, click here.