Rape kits … justice denied
In a state with the nation’s highest rate of rape you might think the testing of kits containing evidence of those attacks would be among government’s highest priorities. You would be wrong. In the past, sadly, that has not been the case.
Pre-filed legislation sponsored by House Rep. Geran Tarr, D-Anchorage, fixes some of that. It would require the “rape kits” be tested within six months of collection. It is a good first step.
It is almost inconceivable to us that in the past those kits languished on police agency shelves. Legislation sponsored by Tarr last year, and signed into law, required the Department of Public Safety to annually report to the Legislature the number of untested kits in Alaska.
The first report put the number at a shocking 2,586. That’s right: 2,586. And some of them date back almost two decades. Every one of them is a story, a person, a government failure.
How many serial rapists or other sexual predators were not identified or caught because of the past lack of testing is unknown. What is known is that hundreds upon hundreds of rape victims were denied justice – and there is no excuse, especially in a state that boasts more than $60 billion in the bank. None.
The situation is improving in Alaska as the state begins using federal grant money to address the shameful backlog. But it is even worse elsewhere. The Accountability Project estimates perhaps “hundreds of thousands” of the kits containing DNA or other vital evidence of sexual assaults are gathering dust in police stations across the nation.
It is nice that Alaska is beginning to test its backlogged kits. It is nice that the Legislature each year must be told how many such kits exist. It is nice that there is legislation is pending to ensure the testing is done on a timely basis. That the backlog exists says something not so nice.
It says the justice system in Alaska, in a mind-boggling failure of gargantuan proportions over the years, denied justice to rape victims and their families – and gave dangerous, violent criminals a pass to attack again. It endangered us all.
Government has only a few legitimate functions. Protecting us from criminals is one of them. The thousands of rape kits that went untested paint a stark picture – Alaska failed to perform its duty and obligation.
Tarr is to be commended for pushing the issue. We hope she – joined by other legislators – pushes it further.