A massive backlog of untested rape kits continues to plague North Carolina’s Attorney General Josh Stein and the state’s Department of Justice.
Attorney General Stein held a press conference Tuesday announcing proposed legislation that will help address the backlog. The press conference was broadcast live via the North Carolina Department of Justice’s Facebook page.
The proposed legislation is called the Standing Up for Rape Victims Act, or Survivor Act. The act, if passed, will mandate submitting sexual assault kits for testing to an accredited lab for local law enforcement agencies and will provide $6 million in funding over the next two years. In addition, the act includes $800,000 in recurring funds to hire additional forensic scientists for testing the kits.
The proposed Survivor act is sponsored by sponsors Senator Warren Daniel (R-D46) and Representatives Mary Belk (D-D88), Jamie Boles (R-D52), Billy Richardson (D-D44), and Carson Smith (R-D16).
Stein also said that the Governor’s Crime Commission was giving the Department of Justice $2 million for processing around 3,000 rape kits. Stein, however, said the $2 million was “nowhere near enough money” and that the legislature has to provide even more funding.
“The untested sexual assault kits sitting on law enforcement shelves are one of this state’s biggest threats to public safety,” said Attorney General Josh Stein in a press release.
“This legislation, along with the $4 million grant funding my office has secured, will allow us to move forward on testing some of the more than 15,000 sexual assault kits currently in local law enforcement custody,” Stein said. “But this legislation is also forward-looking – to prevent such a backlog from occurring again, it requires law enforcement agencies to submit these kits for testing on a going forward basis within 45 days of the kit’s collection.”
Stein announced last October that the federal government had granted $2 million dollars to the state for reducing the backlog of over 15,000 rape kits. At the press conference Tuesday, Stein said that about 800 kits have been processed since then. That means that there are at least 14,360 backlogged kits still untested, but the number is likely higher.
According to EndTheBackLog.org, North Carolina is number one in the country with 15,160 untested rape kits. Behind North Carolina in the list is California (13,615), Florida (13,435), Georgia (10,314) and Tennessee (9,062).
Despite the 800 reduction, North Carolina still ranks number one in the country for backlogged rape kits. The true total number of untested rape kits statewide is arguably unknown.
The number of untested cited by End The BackLog was provided by the North Carolina Department of Justice, but that statistic dates back to the end of 2017 and is not an accurate total.
According to the report which accompanied a February 2018 press release by the North Carolina Department of Justice, only 92 percent of law enforcement agencies responded to the inventory request and 46 agencies did not respond at all.
The rape kit backlog has been an ongoing issue in the state of North Carolina.
In 2003, then-Attorney General Roy Cooper pledged to clear the rape kit backlog. When Cooper ran for governor in 2016 his campaign said there “is no backlog.”
“There’s no backlog figure because there is no backlog,” Noelle Talley, Cooper’s Department of Justice spokeswoman told WRAL.
Fast forward to 2019. Talley is now a Deputy Communications Director for Governor Cooper and the rape kit backlog is still an issue.
In May of 2017, Attorney General Josh Stein told ABC 11 that he had cut the state crime lab backlog which includes rape kits from “52,000” to “9,000.”
The number of kits untested in the backlog remained the same in an October 2018 press release announcing $2 million in federal funds to ease the backlog.
In a report that accompanied the October press release, the average cost to test a kit was listed as $700. Testing 15,160 kits would cost around $10.6 million.
The biggest backlogs were found in Durham with 1,711, followed by Raleigh at 1,428 and Winston Salem with 1,339. To test the backlog in those three cities alone would cost over $3.1 million dollars.
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A.P. Dillon is the North Carolina Bureau Chief for The Tennesee Star and a reporter at Battleground State News. Follow A.P. Dillon on Twitter. Email Tips to [email protected].
Photo “Josh Stein Press Conference” by NC Department of Justice and Attorney General’s Office.