Human Rights Watch: L.A. County has U.S.'s largest rape kit backlog

Los Angeles County has the largest rape kit backlog in the United States, according to a report released today by Human Rights Watch.

More than 50 reporters, rape kit advocates, city workers and cops gathered today at a 40-minute press conference outside Los Angeles City Hall to hear the bleak news. The report, "Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County," revealed that there are more than 12,000 untested rape kits sitting in crime lab storage facilities in cities across the county.

Sarah Tofte of Human Rights Watch

"We know a lot about the numbers but we don't know a lot about the stories - the women," said Sarah Tofte, a Human Rights Watch researcher who authored the 68-page study. "Those kits represent someone's decision to come forward."

Those women trusted "that their rapist would be brought to justice," she said.

The report also found that 1,218 of the untested rape kits were from

unsolved cases in which the attacker was a stranger. And 499 kits were

attached to cases where the 10-year statute of limitations for rape had

passed.

Sadly, the number of kits continued to grow yearly even though the

Los Angeles Police Department and the Los Angeles County Sheriff

Department received millions of dollars in federal funds to reduce the

backlog.

The L.A. Weekly reported on the DNA crisis

March 18, 2009, and found that in L.A. money now being spent on outside

testing labs will soon dry up, and lab workers entering the DNA-test

information into computers are stretched far too thin handling hundreds of new requests from detectives

to work on the rape kits. Critics argue that both the city and county

will need far more space, money and lab workers in order to combat the

problem.

11 am press conference drew a large crowd of reporters

At the 11 a.m. press conference, Tofte demanded that the two law

enforcement agencies test every rape kit within two years. She also

called on Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the Los Angeles City Council, and

the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors to pony up funds and

provide resources to the labs so they could get rid of the

unprecedented backlog and kits for the estimated 1,500 rapes that occur

yearly in the county.

"This is ridiculous," stormed rape survivor Jeri Elster

about the colossal backlog. "We cannot stand for it...Why are the

responses as slow as a snail's pace?...It is a personal insult to all

of us. DNA has to be a priority."

LAPD Deputy Chief Charlie Beck, who was standing next to Councilman

Jack Weiss, admitted to reporters that, in the past, "the

prioritization wasn't there."

"It is about focus - which I have," said Beck who is heading a task

force to combat the issue. However, Beck said that money talks.

"Without public support it won't happen," he said. "If we don't have

adequate funding it will continue."

The report also looked at the backlog in the 47 cities in Los

Angeles County that use the county crime lab for DNA analysis - with

some shocking findings. According to Human Rights Watch, the City of

Long Beach booked 1,911 rape kits into evidence in the past 15 years.

Of those, 51 were sent to the crime lab, an estimated 780 untested kits

were destroyed and 1,072 currently sit untested in a Long Beach police

storage facility.

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