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Rape Kits Backlog

A forensic analyst removes a pair of underwear from an evidence bag for testing in a sexual assault case at the Houston Forensic Science Center in Houston. 

(AP Photo/Pat Sullivan, File)

The U.S. government recently proposed that DNA samples be collected from every immigrant and every asylum seeker who is detained by authorities at the border.

The only exceptions to this proposal will be those who are entering lawfully, those being processed for lawful admission to the U.S., and perhaps young children. Under the proposal, the DNA collected from immigrants and asylum seekers would be entered into the Combined DNA Index System, the federal database accessible by most law enforcement groups.

The Trump administration says this will save lives and bring criminals to justice, and even help identify immigrants who “might commit future crimes.” Cost estimates of this proposed program are very preliminary, but it is likely that “hundreds of thousands” of individuals will be tested each year at a cost of $13 million for three years. This is very likely a low estimate, as the process will include, in addition to DNA test kits, more staff time and more facilities.

Here in Missouri, officials are just completing an inventory of all the untested rape kits stored in various places around the state. The final number of untested kits is expected to be released within weeks. A preliminary number recently published is 5,424 untested rape kits, including 622 that are currently sitting in labs waiting to be processed. Untested rape kits are categorized as either “not sent out for testing” or “at a lab awaiting testing.”

It frequently takes several months after a kit is submitted to a lab for it to be tested. Many of Missouri’s kits will never be tested. If the victim decides not to file a police report or go to trial, the kits are not sent. Unfortunately, cities that have worked on processing their kit backlogs have found that a substantial number of rapists are, in fact, serial rapists. The state’s failure to get their DNA into the Combined DNA Index System allows them to prey on other innocent victims.

There is no federal law mandating tracking and testing of rape kits. Cleveland, Detroit and Memphis recently worked on testing their backlogged kits; these cities found 1,313 suspected serial rapists. They found DNA tying individuals to other crimes, including murders, in at least 40 other states and the District of Columbia. As of January 2018, testing of backlogged kits has resulted in the identification of nearly 1,300 serial rapists nationwide.

Considering the attention now being placed on immigrants’ DNA, it appears that the testing question isn’t one of capability but of the government’s willingness to take action. Wouldn’t the public be better served by processing rape kits from the small percentage of assaults that are actually reported than testing everyone who crosses the border? Aren’t people who have already committed a crime more of a danger than those who might commit future crimes?

I hope Rep. Ann Wagner, R-Ballwin, who has been working on human trafficking, will speak up for prioritizing federal funds for getting backlogged rape kits processed. And I hope common sense will prevail and the proposal to collect DNA from immigrants and asylum seekers will be scuttled. It makes no more sense than collecting DNA samples from every baby born in the United States, which makes no sense at all.

Nancy Price is an active member of Women’s Voices Raised for Social Justice. She lives in Kirkwood.