When a sexual assault occurs, the victim generally is able to have a rape kit performed.
A rape kit, or forensic exam of the victim, collects any materials or specimens — including DNA — that could be used in a criminal investigation of the assault should the victim choose to report. Having DNA evidence in such a case increases the likelihood of identifying the perpetrator through databases of profiles run by the FBI, increases the likelihood of holding the perpetrator accountable and — if a perpetrator is found and convicted — could prevent future sexual assaults from occurring, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network.
So why is Missouri not testing its backlog of rape kits?
Eric Schmitt, the state’s attorney general whose office began to track the number of backlogged rape kits in 2017, announced last week that only 830 of about 7,000 total backlogged kits have been tested. The agency estimates it has enough grant money to test at least 1,250 kits.
This is appalling and is a slap in the face to victims and advocates who fight for justice for those who have been assaulted or raped. We couldn’t have said it better than Schmitt himself, as quoted by KOMU-TV in Columbia: “These kits are not numbers. They are not footnotes to the reporting of a crime. They represent real human beings who have suffered, confronted their fears, reported the assault and submitted to a kit.”
How could approximately 90% of these rape kits go untested? Where does the failure lie?
With police departments and investigative bodies that don’t prioritize the prompt examination of rape kits. With municipalities that don’t adequately fund law enforcement agencies that would otherwise have enough resources for testing. With communities that don’t demand swift testing to provide a chance at justice for victims.
This is a collective failure by all of us. We can and must do better.
But there is a glimmer of potential good news in all of this. A former Jasper County judge who is leading the testing effort, M. Keithley Williams, says the attorney general’s office will ask for more money as needed to test every kit.
Our thanks to those who are standing up for sexual assault and rape victims. Missouri should make them a priority.