North Carolina got a federal grant to outsource DNA testing for a portion of the close to 15,000 untested rape kits that sit on evidence shelves in local law enforcement agencies. But the attorney general said more state funding is needed to test the rest of these kits.
DNA from sexual assault kits can be a critical clue to finding the perpetrator of a rape and connecting cases. As Lt. John Somerindyke of the Fayetteville Police Department’s Special Victims Unit put it:
“Every rapist is a serial rapist,” he said. “When we don’t test sexual assault kits, when we don’t test all available evidence for DNA, we are allowing serial rapists to run free and continue to rape.”
But testing kits is expensive. It costs about $700 to outsource a kit. The North Carolina Department of Justice was able to move some money around to outsource the testing of 587 kits. The DNA from those kits matched 10 profiles already in a database of convicted felons and some arrested for serious crimes. That information doesn’t necessarily solve cases, but can give investigators a big lead.
There are still several thousand rape kits sitting on police department shelves across the state. Attorney General Josh Stein said a $2 million federal grant will help the state test about 10 percent of those kits and train law enforcement on taking a victim-centered approach to sexual assault investigations. Stein had asked lawmakers for $10.6 million earlier this year to test old kits, but he didn’t get that money and is asking again.
“What is clear is the General Assembly must step up,” Stein said. “We will never finish testing all these kits without a public commitment to the public’s safety.”
Another part of the grant money will go to ensuring all new and old kits have barcodes so they can be tracked in the state’s new system. Since it launched Monday, five victims had kits collected. Liz Herring was the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner to enter the first one. She runs the program at five hospitals within the Cape Fear Valley Health System in the Fayetteville area.
“It was actually very simple,” Herring said. “It’s easy to follow. We really love the simplicity of the system.”
Herring said she thinks the tracking system will hold all parties who deal with these kits accountable. In the past, when victims called to find out, she had to tell them to call the police.
“I don’t like that. I like things wrapped up in a neat little bow,” she said. “I want to be able to tell them this is exactly what you do, and you can find out that information immediately and you don’t have to chase it down.”
Now, sexual assault survivors can just enter the serial number that matches their kit into a web portal and see its location and testing status.