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20 States Receiving Grants to Process Backlog of Rape Evidence

Thousands of rape kits sit on police shelves for years. Credit: Rape Kit Action Project.
Thousands of rape kits sit on police shelves for years. Credit: Rape Kit Action Project.
September 14, 2015

NEW YORK – Law enforcement agencies in 20 states soon will be getting grants to solve a longstanding problem – evidence in rape cases that often goes untested for years.

New York City District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. has announced that he will be using $38 million taken in civil forfeitures from international banks to test some 56,000 rape kits sitting in police evidence lockers around the country.

Natasha Alexenko is a survivor of sexual assault and founder of Natasha's Project, which is dedicated to clearing the backlog of rape kits. She calls the grants unprecedented.

"It's really the first time money has been put out addressing the backlog of kits that aren't necessarily at laboratories but have yet to leave police stations," she points out.

The U.S. Justice Department is contributing another $41 million, approved by Congress last year, to test rape kits in 20 more jurisdictions.

Testing those kits does more than offer victims some hope of closure. Alexenko says after she was raped at gunpoint, it took police almost 10 years to analyze the DNA evidence and identify her attacker, a man who had gone on to victimize others.

"He was on a nationwide crime spree,” she relates. “He committed very violent crimes in seven different states across the country. He became really a public safety hazard."

Vance says testing rape kits in other states can help solve crimes in New York. He points out that in 2009, Detroit tested 2,000 kits that had been sitting in a warehouse, and found DNA matches to unsolved crimes in 23 states.


Andrea Sears, Public News Service - NY