Initial Results Expected Soon on Previously Untested Rape Kits
SAN DIEGO (KUSI) — The San Diego County District Attorney is making a major commitment to testing more evidence collected from cases of sexual assault.
District Attorney Summer Stephan called a news conference Tuesday to announce she is working with the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department to clear the backlog of untested rape kits, with a goal of sending 1,000 untested evidence kits to a private lab in Virginia for analysis.
At a cost of $1,000 per kit, Stephan said she expects to spend about $1 million. Of the untested kits, about 400 are cases from the Sheriff’s Department and roughly 600 are from eight other police agencies in the San Diego region.
The push to get more evidence tested received strong support last August from the U.S. Justice Department which recommended that all rape kits be tested. Stephan also cited a new law that would require law enforcement agencies within 120 days of collecting an evidence kit to report on why it was not tested.
The policy director for a survivors’ advocacy group called Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by actress Mariska Hargitay, said the District Attorney’s efforts would help to bring more perpetrators to justice.
“When we test rape kits, we can identify unknown offenders, link serial cases, link crimes together, revealing serial rapists and we can also exonerate the wrongly convicted,” said Ilse Knecht.
A sexual assault survivor named Sharon came forward with her story of a brutal rape in which her attacker left her for dead.
Her rape kit was tested and nearly five years later, the DNA evidence was matched with a man who was incarcerated in another state but was days away from his release.
As a result of the DNA match, the man was brought back to San Diego for trial where he was convicted of the sexual assault and sentenced to 106 years in prison. “I was finally able to find justice and start to heal and feel safe again.
This person was caught because of a rape kit that was processed. In my mind, there is no excuse that all rape kits should not be processed,” Sharon said.
The San Diego Police Department is not part of this new initiative. In a 2016 tour of the crime lab, the police department’s lab manager explained why some rape kits are not tested. Sometimes, investigators can’t determine that a crime actually occurred or there may be reasonable doubt that a DNA sample is from the perpetrator and not from a consensual partner.
Lab manager Jennifer Shen also indicated that the tests do not always yield useful results.
“Somewhere between 50 to 70 percent of the sexual assault tests do not produce a qualifying, analytically good DNA profile that can even be uploaded to the DNA database,” Shen said.
In cases where the victim and the attacker know each other, Shen said investigators may decide that instead of testing a rape kit, they will collect the suspect’s DNA through a mouth swab, “because 100 percent of the time we’re going to get a profile off of that and we can put that profile in the database.”
The District Attorney and the advocates for sexual assault survivors who were present at Tuesday’s news conference still see the need for all rape kits to be tested, even if the assault is committed by an acquaintance.
“We’re seeing that acquaintance rapists are also serial rapists,” said Knecht. “There may be a series of assaults against someone they know and then someone they don’t know.”
The San Diego County District Attorney also announced that survivors of sexual assault can request information about the testing status of their evidence kits, through a phone number or an email address. The phone number is (858) 514-4661.The email address is KitTestResults@sdsheriff.org.