#TestTheKits: New grant will eliminate untested rape kit backlog

13News Now Investigative Reporter Laura Geller has the story

Hundreds of women across Hampton Roads have been sexually assaulted—And the very thing that could prove who did it sat on shelves at police departments all across our area. Eighteen months ago, 13News Now launched an investigation to find out how many rape kits had not been sent to the state lab for testing.

Wednesday, there was another major development. Virginia’s Attorney General announced more federal grant money has been approved to clear the backlog of untested rape kits.

For the first time in decades, we can finally say soon Virginia will no longer have a backlog of untested rape kits.

The $2 million grant means the last of the rape kits that had been left collecting dust on shelves in police departments will be sent to labs for DNA testing.

They are some of the most difficult moments rape victims have to go through. They are poked and prodded to collect evidence from their bodies. The DNA in their rape kits is supposed to be tested. It's a way to identify suspects. But for decades, survivors of these heinous crimes were victimized once again, when their kits are left in police departments and not sent to the state lab.

Todays' announcement means they will be victims of delay no more.

“When I heard that there was a backlog of some two-thousand untested kits I knew we had to do something,” Attorney General Mark Herring told 13News Now.

This new pot of money will allow the state to examine two more years’ worth of untested rape kits. Once the kits dating from June of 2014 through last summer are tested, Virginia will no longer have a backlog.

There could be more cases like Debbie Smith's, whose rape was solved in Williamsburg through a DNA hit.

“I literally remember taking a deliberate breath because I wanted to live again,” she cried.

She explained the act of testing every kit means so much to victims.

“I felt so validated,” she recalled. “Somebody believed me and somebody cared enough to finally take that kit off of the shelf.”

And now, this new grant will make sure a backlog never adds up again.

The state will implement a system to track every kit. Once evidence is taken from a victim at a hospital, the kit is scanned, then scanned again when police take custody of it and then again when it is tested at the lab.

This proactive system is a stark change from where we started 18-months ago.

“I think a lot of the progress is attributable to courageous survivors who have come forward to tell their stories about their own situations and what it has meant to them to have their kit tested, stories like you did with Debbie Smith,” Herring added. “I am really glad that I am a part of a change in culture.”

The grant also provides new job positions to help survivors through the traumatic process and training for law enforcement to deal with these victims in a sensitive way.

© 2017 WVEC-TV


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