Untested Rape Kits: The bigger picture

What officials will do about rape kit backlog

NORFOLK, Va. (WVEC) -- 13News Now is looking at the bigger picture following our investigation, which uncovered hundreds of untested rape kits sitting in local police departments. 

This is a problem that needs attention on many levels, so we're finding out what elected officials are going to do about it. We're holding both your state and federal representatives accountable on an issue that could affect each and every Virginian in some way.

Debbie Smith's story has touched people throughout the Commonwealth and across the country. In 1989, Smith was dragged from her Williamsburg home while her husband, a police officer, was asleep upstairs. She was pulled into the woods behind her home and raped over and over again.

"It took my life," she told us. "It stole any joy that was possible in my life."

The mother of two waited six long years for her case to be solved through DNA testing.

"There was now a name to go with the face that I had carried in my head for six and a half years," the victim-turned-advocate recalled.

A federal law named after her now provides funding for police departments to get rid of the backlogs of their rape kits, or Physical Evidence Recovery Kits as they're known in Virginia. U.S. Senator Tim Kaine is one of many lawmakers supporting The Debbie Smith Act.

We showed him our 13News Now Investigation, which uncovered 1,536 untested rape kits in Hampton Roads.

"The story is very troubling," he responded. "The thing is, really, I would call kind of an emergency that is really sort of a public safety disaster probably sitting on shelves."

We wanted to know what the Senator will do about the "public safety disaster sitting on shelves" in local police departments. Since the majority of cases fall under the local or state jurisdiction, on a federal level, what can be done involves money. Kaine tells 13News Now he wants to make sure the funding support is provided.

"Hopefully, if we can test it, we can catch some people. But more importantly, by catching some people, we can prevent other crimes," he explained.

We also alerted Kaine to a loophole in the law, which allows the feds to spend "Debbie Smith money" on issues other than the rape kit backlog. We asked if he'll work to close the loophole.

"We shouldn't be providing these funds, then allowing them to be used for other purposes, even if those purposes are good," he maintained. "The real public safety, I think, emergency is this backlog on the rape kits and I think we ought to be using the dollars just for that."

State money could also be used and Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran says the governor is committed to solving the problem.

"It's money well spent," Moran said. "The importance of DNA evidence cannot be overstated." 

Moran will head a special work group focusing on the inventory of untested PERK kits, which was created right after our investigation aired. The group, which includes law enforcement, forensic scientists and victim advocates, will review why some of these kits were not tested and figure out what needs to be changed.

We asked Moran if he believes there are reasons all kits should be tested in the bigger picture.

"We do," he responded. "Recognizing the importance of DNA evidence, let's re-examine that and see if we can't test even more, so we can put the DNA into the databank, so that we can prohibit future crime."

The discussion could even lead to some new laws and new testing guidelines for all police departments.

"I think it should be uniform throughout the Commonwealth," Moran said.

As this issue has been around for decades, we wanted to know how long it will be until we see change. Moran added he wants to make any recommendations to the governor in time for the legislature to take action when they reconvene in January. 


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