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Report: County has 12K untested rape kits

March 31, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
The backlog of untested rape kits is much greater in Los Angeles than earlier reported, according to independent group Human Rights Watch. Last year, the L.A. County Sheriff's Department and Los Angeles Police Department were criticized for falling behind on DNA tests. The latest report says dozens of local police departments are also backlogged on rape evidence.There's a new number from Human Rights Watch: 2,750. That's the backlog of untested rape kits in 47 police agencies in L.A. County, which brings the new total -- including the LAPD and Sheriff's Dept. -- to 12,000 untested rape kits, according to the citizen group. Those numbers are disputed by some authorities.

In the shadow of L.A. City Hall, Human Rights Watch released its latest numbers on untested rape kits, with the claim that Los Angeles has the biggest backlog in the country.

"When you're looking at these 12,000 untested rape kits, I think those are the stories of victims who were looking for justice and may not have yet seen it," said Sarah Tofte, Human Rights Watch. "And for too many victims justice delayed became justice denied."

That number of 12,000 now includes 2,700 kits backlogged in the county's 47 suburban police agencies, but that total may be disputed. In an interview, a police official said Human Rights Watch did all kits in police inventory, both tested and untested. Not in dispute is the fact there is a backlog, and untested rape kits can mean rapists remain free.

"We had a case in which the evidence sat on the shelf of a crime lab facility for probably eight months, and during that time the same rapist attacked two other women that we know of, and one of them was a child," said Gail Abarbanel, director of the Rape Treatment Center in Santa Monica.

The rapist was caught and is now behind bars for life. Human Rights Watch said untested evidence puts women, girls, all individuals at risk from predators, but with the backlog in government labs, it costs a thousand dollars to outsource one test. All of it leaves rape victims who have the courage to come forward wondering why they did.

"It's not just DNA evidence, it's literally a part of the victim, and those kits represent someone's decision to come forward," said Tofte.

Tuesday, the victims' advocates called on authorities to have every backlog kit tested within two years, and to expand the crime lab so that all new kits can be tested within 30 to 60 days.

And finally there is a third call to action from Human Rights Watch: that a rape victim be kept notified of the status of his or her case.


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