Raping Justice One Kit at a Time

The rape kit’s importance cannot be underestimated. However, it often is. According to an investigative piece for KPRC Local 2 News in Houston, many women in Texas who are victims of rape end up paying for their own rape kits and in other states, including California, these completed kits gather dust while waiting to be examined.

Ask any individual well-versed in the world of law and order about the first task in a rape investigation and they will inevitably say “rape kit.” This rape kit procedure can be invasive and involves taking samples left by the attacker. They need to be administered immediately after an attack, while victims are still grappling with intense emotional and physical pain.

The results, however, seem to be worth the hurt, as rape kits can lead to guilty verdicts. They provide DNA evidence that can confirm eyewitness accounts, thus allowing for a conviction. The procedure can cost well over $1,000, but is much cheaper and effective than the alternatives. Used in conjunction with other evidence, the kits make a prosecutor’s job much easier.

Despite their benefits, a number of problems have arisen across the country. In California alone, approximately 7,000 samples gathered from rape kits in Los Angeles await testing, according to The New York Times. Some have been on the shelves so long that the statute of limitations, 10 years, on the case has run out. This means that the rape case can no longer be prosecuted and that the victim’s chance for justice has vanished.

One may conclude that this problem is due to lack of funding, but the truth is hundreds of thousands of federal dollars for rape kits remain unclaimed each year.

In Texas, an equally serious problem has arisen. The fact that some women have been forced to pay for their rape kits is troublesome. In the lone star state, victims are expected to cover part of the cost. The Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund is expected to reimburse the victim’s costs, but in many cases the funds are not directed to the victims. One Texas woman ended up owing over $1,800 after she was raped. When she applied for the fund to get her money back, she was denied. The fund has spare money in the tens of millions, according to the Texas State Comptroller’s office.

Victims are only allowed to access the fund after exhausting all other resources, including insurance policies and police departments, before applying. Victims who seek funding find that their claims are bogged down by bureaucratic red tape, including errors in paperwork and filing expenses under the wrong category. This misdirection casts suspicion on the Texas Crime Victim’s Compensation Fund.

The ways in which rape kits are dealt with need to be rectified because, as of now, they force victims to re-enact their tragedy, hurt the accuracy of trials and undermine the fundamental right to justice. When a victim receives a bill for the invasive procedure performed after her trauma, she is forced to recall that horrible time against her will. Even worse, she has to battle and reapply often enough for funding that the incident stays on her mind even longer. The situation is analogous to if you got a letter saying, “Hey, remember the worst time in your life?”

As if life could not be worse for the victim, it also jeopardizes her safety and the well-being of others. If the police cannot make an arrest or if the defendant is allowed free on bail or an incorrect verdict is handed down, then offenders are free to rape again. Without the results from the hundreds of untested cases in California, there is a potential for rapists to wander the streets.

The results from rape kits can also help innocent men go free. Human memory can be unreliable in a state of duress. In cases where police arrest the wrong individual, rape kit evidence can exonerate the innocent and prevent a life from being wasted in prison.

The rape kit crisis is most disturbing because it undermines a victim’s right to justice. The government has a responsibility to ensure protection and that justice is served. The rape kit performs both of these actions, helping to convict criminals and proving innocence. The United States’ Constitution is designed to enforce justice for all; the phrase is even in our pledge of allegiance. Funding is already available and yet rape kits wait to be tested around the country. This is an insult to the victims.

Kevin Pease is a fourth-year psychology and social behavior major. He can be reached at kpease@uci.edu.