NC clears long backlog of untested rape kits, Josh Stein announces

Law enforcement officials and sexual assault survivors joined Attorney General Josh Stein at a press conference in Raleigh on Tuesday to announce that North Carolina had tested and processed nearly all of the rape-kits that had been languishing across the state for years. (Photo: North Carolina Department of Justice)

#image_title

By Michael McElroy

April 10, 2024

A bipartisan effort helped test nearly 12,000 older rape kits since 2019, leading to positive IDs on thousands of assailants and a sense of closure for many sexual assault survivors.

Five years ago, North Carolina had one the largest number of untested rape kits in the country. Now it has next to none.

The state has cleared its long backlog of nearly 12,000 untested kits since 2019, Attorney General Josh Stein announced on Tuesday.

“Each kit belongs to a person who experienced a brutal trauma. They deserve our best efforts to seek justice and get their rapists off the streets,” Stein said on Tuesday.

“Today is a great day.”

As of April, Stein’s office said, 11,841 of 11,858 outstanding kits had been tested or are in the process of being tested. That’s 99%.

Through those tests, his office said, law enforcement matched DNA to more than 2,000 assailants, most of whom had previously been arrested. The tests also led to 114 new arrests.

Bipartisan effort

An NC justice department review in 2017 showed that some 16,000 older rape kits sat gathering dust on shelves across the state, untested and unprocessed, meaning that thousands of crimes had gone uninvestigated.

Of those, the review showed, 11,858 could be tested under state law.

Stein worked with legislators from both parties to pass legislation, secure funding, and create a thorough system to clear the backlog and seek justice for both victims and survivors, the attorney general’s office said in a news release. The legislation, the 2019 “Survivor Act,” provided $6 million to test older kits and required law enforcement departments to submit the kits for testing within 45 days of collection.

“I am incredibly proud of the bipartisan and collaborative effort that produced this achievement – Republican and Democratic legislators, district attorneys, and law enforcement officers all played a critical role in ending the backlog,” Stein said in the release.

Through that law and other efforts, scientists from the North Carolina Crime Lab worked with victim advocates and law enforcement to determine which kits needed to be tested, Stein’s office said. To prevent new backlogs, the Crime Lab also “implemented a tracking system to ensure that survivors, law enforcement, prosecutors and other stakeholders could monitor kits’ progress after they are collected.”

‘The essence of a human being’

At a news conference in Raleigh on Tuesday, Stein was joined by law enforcement officials and sexual assault survivors, including Linda, whose last name we’re not reporting, who has advocated for victims for more than 30 years.

“We owe a debt of gratitude to the survivors who have advocated for this work,” Stein said.

“I want to say a special thank you to Ms. Linda, who turned her tragedy into tireless advocacy for other survivors.”

At a similar press conference alongside Stein in 2022, Linda said that the languishing rape kits were far more than a collection of evidence.

“I am a 29-year survivor of kidnapping, attempted murder and sexual assault,” Linda said in 2022.

“Each rape kit, represents the essence of a human being.”

She added: “Crime labs nationwide unlock the voices hidden in the rape kits,” Linda said.

“These vital healers provide the peace, closure and justice that a victim grown into a survivor deserves,” she said.

Author

  • Michael McElroy

    Michael McElroy is Cardinal & Pine's political correspondent. He is an adjunct instructor at UNC-Chapel Hill's Hussman School of Journalism and Media, and a former editor at The New York Times.

CATEGORIES: CRIME AND SAFETY

Politics

Local News

Related Stories
Share This