400,000 rape kits untested, gov’t funding in limbo

Budget battle in Washington holding up funding

NEW YORK (CNN) – A budget battle in Washington is holding up funding that could help put away criminals responsible for hundreds of thousands of rapes.

Across the country, an estimated 400,000 rape kits remain unexamined because police departments do not have the money for pricey DNA testing. The funds that could end this backlog are stuck in Congress.

In Detroit, Michael Eugene Swygart was just sentenced to prison for sex crimes, but the serial rapist could have been caught decades ago if DNA from a 1988 rape had been tested sooner. Think of all the more recent victims that could have been protected.

“When he threw me on the bed and was raping me, my son had a plastic bat and was hitting him trying to help me,” said an anonymous rape victim.

Swygart’s DNA was found in at least one of 11,000 untested DNA kits in Detroit. Along with more than 4,000 reported in Las Vegas and more than 12,000 in Memphis.

Nationwide, advocates estimate up to 400,000 reported rapes, some decades old, likely remain unsolved because rape kits like this have not been processed. Largely due to the high cost of pursuing DNA evidence. Advocates have been pushing for federal money to help cities end the backlog for years.

“Each day that goes by where they can’t test their kits or investigate their leads means they’re losing out on the opportunity and ability to provide justice for survivors and to hold these offenders accountable,” said Sarah Tofte, Vice President of The Joyful Heart Foundation.

This year, a glimmer of hope, a 41 million dollar bill to fund rape kit testing passed the house and reached the senate floor in June.

“The only restrictions on this bill are the rules of the senate,” said Sen. Mitch McConnell, (R) Kentucky.

The $41 million was included as part of a larger, 180 billion dollar spending bill.

McConnell continues, “When do we start legislating again? What happened to the U.S senate?”

However, the rape kit relief funds fell victim to the U.S. senate’s quicksand of dysfunction, with both sides sniping about amendments and vote thresholds and no discussion of justice for rape victims. The spending bill was pulled.

“This is how the Senate operates now. I wish it didn’t, but it does,” said Sen. Harry Reid, (D) Nevada.

Her city’s backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits, some are 30 years old. Of the 1600 she has already had tested, she found 127 serial rapists, Swygart was just one.

“These rapists from the 16-hundred that we’ve had tested over the last couple of years, have gone on to rape almost half of the states in the United State and the District of Columbia, that’s how pervasive this problem is in one city, in one county, in one state in the United States,” said Kym Worthy, Wayne County Prosecutor.

This week, the funding got another chance, this time as part of a 1.1 trillion dollar spending bill.

“We’ve done this in a bipartisan fashion and frankly it’s a good bill,” says House speaker John Boehner.

“I’m just not going to vote for it.  At this point, I don’t see many democratic votes at all,” said Rep. Steve Israel, (D) New York.

At this hour, it’s unclear if it will get through Congress, if it does not, this crucial funding will be delayed yet again either way it should have passed months ago.

“The real issue has come down to who has control over the bill and those are the leaders of the senate and that’s who we need to act right now,” said Sarah Tofte.

To these prosecutors and activists, congressional gridlock isn’t just a journalistic cliché, or campaign complaint, it is pernicious.

“There’s no reason why it should be so hard to prosecute violent crime against women. I will never understand that, what you’re saying, is that their lives don’t matter, that their cases don’t matter and they don’t matter so I don’t understand that at all,” said Kym Worthy.

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