What is a backlogged rape kit? That definition is being debated between a rape survivor advocacy group and law enforcement. Depending on the definition, the number of backlogged rape kits can drastically change for a law enforcement department.
“Each of these kits represent a survivor,” said Ilse Knecht, the Senior Policy and Advocacy Advisor at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “They’re expecting these kits are going to be tested and too often they’re not, and the decision is made not to be tested.”
“The San Diego Police Department does not consider those cases part of our backlog,” said Lt. Scott Wahl with the San Diego Police Department.
While the foundation defines backlog as any rape kit that has not been tested, SDPD defines them as any rape kit waiting to be tested. Under the department’s definition, Wahl says, as of Wednesday, the department has two rape kits that need testing.
Wahl says there are various reasons why some rape kits don’t get forwarded to their laboratory for testing. Some of those reasons include the witness does not want an investigation, detectives determined no crime was committed or there wasn’t enough evidence for detectives to legally enter the information in a DNA database. He says they keep the kits in case the victim changes his or her mind in the future.
In addition, Wahl says the 2,800+ figure represents 25 years of kits collected at the department.
When asked about entering all rape kit information into the database to potentially help other investigations, crime lab manager Jennifer Shen said, “That’s not even an option for us. We are part of a system that allows us to access to these very powerful tools. That state and national database. And to be part of those systems, we have to follow rules. Our investigators have to determine if a crime has occurred and if we can be reasonably certain the DNA profile belongs to a perpetrator.”
Knecht with the Joyful Heart Foundation argues the benefits of testing all rape kits and entering the information into a database far outweigh other concerns.
“If you’re not testing the kits, then you don’t have the evidence,” she said. “There are times when matches across crimes will happen, and I think in the interest of public safety and bringing answers and justice to survivors, it’s something we have to do.“
In 2014, state auditors came to the San Diego Police Department and looked into 15 random sex assault cases where the rape kits were not forwarded to a laboratory. Auditors agreed with SDPD detectives' decisions on the cases. However, they also concluded testing all kits could be beneficial to other investigations.To learn more about their findings, click this link.