Rape Kits: Legislators must help eliminate testing backlog

Justice has been delayed, possibly even denied, for hundreds of sexual assault victims in West Virginia, because “rape kits” that may contain DNA evidence have been on law enforcement shelves for years without being tested.

Some progress has been made, but evidence collected from some victims 15 or more years ago has yet to be tested fully. West Virginia is among the states slowest to act on such backlogs, according to a national organization.

Obviously, money is a big part of the problem. Testing rape kits can be expensive. But the West Virginia Division of Justice and Community Services and the West Virginia State Police Forensic Laboratory have found money to develop a new online Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Information System that will help crime labs track kits, ensuring each one is tested and helping to prevent any from being lost.

That is fantastic news, and an indication that some folks in Charleston are working hard to tackle this problem. But one advocacy group estimates there are as many as 2,400 kits awaiting testing in the Mountain State. A statewide inventory of the number of untested kits held by all of West Virginia’s law enforcement agencies has not been completed.

State legislators should ask for an estimate of what it would take to make better progress in eliminating the backlog. Surely, even with all our government funding problems, West Virginians can still afford justice.