Want to Convict Rapists? Follow Cleveland's Example

There are thousands and thousands of untested rape kits across the country that have been untouched for years.

But now, due to increased pressure from the media and the public, cities are beginning to aggressively investigate rape crimes and arrest the perpetrators. Cleveland is one such example. Cuyahoga County, which encompasses Cleveland, has promised to test all of its unexamined rape kits, often racing against time to arrest rapists before the statues of limitations run out. But why do the multitude of untested rape kits exist in the first place? It’s clear that with the widespread availability and relative accuracy of DNA testing, states and cities need to prioritize testing rape kits and tracking down rapists, rather than letting rape kits gather dust and leaving victims without closure.

Detroit is another example of a city slowly beginning to move forward with testing the kits — with some prodding from a Detroit prosecutor named Kym Worthy. A few years ago, Worthy heard about the existence of 11,000 untested rape kits in a warehouse and sprang into action. She received a $1 million federal grant to help test those kits, and is hoping that the work the grant funds will lead to further awareness and money from the police. But it’s shocking that the public needs to have champions such as Worthy to go out and fight for something as simple as identifying rapists, especially when the evidence is readily available.

Oftentimes, rape kits go untested because of lack of money to pursue DNA testing, but more often it seems that they just aren’t prioritized. Crime laboratories don’t have the resources to handle all the cases coming in, and funding hasn’t been enough to expand the labs adequately. Backlogged kits can also be damaged, leaving sexual assault cases unprosecuted and significant pieces of evidence rendered useless.  

It’s true that victims do decide not to prosecute after kits are tested, and that sometimes the evidence in the kit does not help lead to the assaulter. But testing DNA kits in all assaults could lead to police catching more serial rapists and rapists who have committed other crimes. And the rape kit testing in Cleveland is certainly showing results — the Plain Dealer of Cleveland has a running list of the indicted.  

Our country needs to reorganize the way its criminal justice system treats assault cases. If victims of sexual assault have taken the courage and time to undergo a rape kit, let’s at the very least follow Cleveland’s example and send all the kits out for testing.