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article imageIncrease in genetic testing could clear rape case backlog

By Tim Sandle     Mar 13, 2019 in Crime
There is a huge volume of biological evidence related to suspected rape cases languishing in laboratories tied to courts in the U.S. This has led to calls for authorities to accelerate testing and address the backlog.
The size of the backlog may extend to over 155,000 sexual assault incidents, including rape. Cases are held up due to lack of evidence or due to court time being taken up with other issues. As stated by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr., many of these cases can be advanced if the biological evidence can be sent for genetic testing, examining DNA (the unique genetic code that determines many of our individual human characteristics) on file.
The fact that samples are sitting in freezers and are not being followed up, when genetic testing is relatively quick and can be conducted at a relatively low cost (around $1000), is “an absolute travesty of justice,” according to Vance. Moreover, this undermines “justice and perception, and reality, of equality — it also made every woman and every American less safe.” This reflects that many cases of sexual assault are not being treated with sufficient seriousness.
Attorney Vance has also helped to support funding for cases that fall outside his own area of jurisdiction, to the tune of $38 million. Vance, after clearing New York City’s backlog, has worked with the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to help other locales address their genetic test backlogs. This includes areas as diverse as Flint, Michigan and Mobile, Alabama.
Vance's efforts made a significant dent in the so-called ‘rape kit backlog’, but there remains more to do with a large number of untested swab samples. By analyzing the samples collected using swabs in a ‘rape kit’, forensic scientists are able to develop a DNA profile that is unique to the alleged perpetrator.
According to the Huffington Post, material relating to over 100,000 sexual assault cases in the U.S. has been sent for DNA testing over the past three years. This testing has been backed by additional funding from federal authorities. This range of testing has enabled some cases to be progressed and there have been an estimated 1,000 arrests during the current testing wave.
One example of a backlog being resolved is with the case of Tracy Rios, who accused someone she knew of sexual assault in 2002. The case was not progressed by local law enforcement because it was based on ‘one word against another’.
The test kit sat untested for 15 years until money was provided through Attorney Vance’s initiative. In 2017, Rios was told that the test had been conducted and that the results suggested further investigation was required. The police are now pursuing Rios’ case anew.
More about Dna, Genetic testing, Rape cases, Sexual assault, swabbing
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