Cory Watson Attorneys are one of the law firms EROC works with directly in assisting survivors of campus sexual violence in holding their colleges and universities accountable. When survivors require legal assistance beyond EROC's scope, Cory Watson steps in.
Cory Watson's longstanding expertise regarding sexual violence extends beyond campus sexual assault. For years their firm has stood with survivors of sex crimes, primarily in the southeastern United States. They offer us with legal perspective on the issues survivors and their communities face. We thank them for sharing their legal knowledge with us.
Trudging Through the Backlog of Rape Kit Storage
With sexual assault cases running rampant throughout the country, there is a compelling need to solve widespread issues related to rape kit storage.
What is a rape kit?
After a victim of sexual assault contacts the hospital, health center, police, or rape crisis center, the victim’s body immediately becomes one of the most critical tools of evidence. Doctors and/or nurses conduct rape kits where the victim’s entire body is thoroughly examined by being swabbed, photographed, and searched for any DNA evidence left behind by the alleged attacker. This incredibly intrusive and invasive procedure can sometimes last as long as six hours.
Upon completion of the examination procedure, the collection of this forensic evidence is preserved in a rape kit. Next, the rape kit is booked into evidence at police evidence storage facilities. Thereafter, the rape kit may be requested for DNA analysis by prosecutors and detectives.
How can rape kits be used?
- Identify the unknown or known assailant
- Affirm or discredit the survivor and suspect’s accounts
- Connect the suspect to other crimes
- Exonerate the falsely accused and/or convicted
A vital tool, rape kits can be used not only to identify the victim’s attacker, but also to prevent further attacks to others. Through such powerful evidence, sexual assault survivor’s recollections of the attack may be ultimately affirmed while discrediting accounts of others.
If rape kits can be used for such benefit, why are detectives and prosecutors failing to put them to their full use?
Records reveal a widespread inconsistency with how police departments are handing rape kits throughout the United States. While some police departments get all rape kits DNA tested, others rarely do. There are tens of thousands of rape kits accumulating at police departments across the country that remain untested for DNA results.
When DNA tests are requested, a major backlog persists in crime lab facilities. Rape kits are submitted for analysis, await DNA test results, and then fail to be pursued in a timely manner. Some say this is due to lack of funds and the major expenses involved in forensic evidence testing. Others say backlog exists because detectives and prosecutors fail to push the rape kits to be tested in a timely manner — deeming the case not winnable in court or even worse, blaming rather than believing the victim. This causes major problems for our justice system and fails to bring aid to rape and sexual assault survivors because of this inefficient process.
What changes In the laws would help end the problems with rape kit storage?
In order to bring justice for survivors throughout our country, rape kits must be DNA tested. States should be provided with ample resources to break through the backlog of rape kits. Crime labs throughout the country should commit themselves to testing this critical evidence in a timely manner. Currently no federal law exists mandating the tracking and testing of rape kits.
All rape kits in police storage facilities should be required under law to be submitted to an accredited public or private crime laboratory for testing within a reasonable time of being booked into evidence. Law enforcement needs to be educated about the value of rape kits and prioritize these cases. While each rape kit serves an opportunity to reveal justice and truth for sexual violence, each untested rape kit embodies a lost opportunity.
At Cory Watson Attorneys, we believe that every voice should be heard. As advocates for sexual assault survivors, our attorneys seek to secure justice for individuals nationwide and are available to provide confidential, free legal consultation. Additional information is available at corywatson.com