Police departments are destroying fewer rape kits prematurely in the wake of last month’s CNN investigation revealing the practice of discarding such evidence while it could still be used to catch and charge rapists.
CNN reported authorities in several states have taken action in response to the news outlet’s inquiry finding more than 400 cases of rape kits being destroyed before statutes of limitation had expired.
Using department records since 2010, the investigation found some rape kits were destroyed by police just weeks or months after they were filed. CNN also found 25 law enforcement agencies in 14 states had arbitrarily destroyed rape kits in cases “they believed had no chance of moving forward.” Here’s how some states have responded:
The police chief in Springfield, Mo., in a social media video apologized to sexual assault victims and survivors in the state, CNN reported. Police Chief Paul Williams said victims could contact the office if they felt their cases were “not investigated appropriately.” He added the sex crimes department will no longer give victims just 10 days to respond to investigators before closing cases.
In Washington state, Attorney General Bob Ferguson said on Tuesday he would direct law enforcement across the state against inappropriately destroying rape kits. “Every kit is a story that deserves to be told.” The Seattle Police Department destroyed at least 18 rape kits, CNN found.
The Jamestown Police Department destroyed at least two rape kits in cases described by law enforcement as “first-degree rapes” with no statute of limitations. In a statement, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand called their decision to destroy the kits “deeply offensive to the survivors of these horrific crimes.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo called it “disturbing” and urged state police to ensure the department is “complying with state law regarding the handling of rape kits.”
Georgia State Rep. Scott Holcomb said he would introduce a bill that bans destroying rape kits in unsolved and uncharged sexual abuse cases. Holcomb is borrowing language from End the Backlog, a program run by the non-profit Joyful Heart Foundation, which focuses on untested rape kits. The foundation has successfully lobbied for 34 rape kit laws in 26 states, according to CNN.
“The system has failed and continues to fail. I hate to say it but the basic reason [this happened] is because women aren’t believed when they report these crimes,” Holcomb said.
CNN found the Lapeer Police Department had destroyed at least 10 rape kits, at least five of which belonged to minors. “Without this valuable evidence, our justice system cannot hold those who commit these crimes accountable, nor can survivors receive the justice so necessary to the healing process,” said Mary Engleman, the executive director of the Michigan Women’s Commission.
In Idaho, the investigation found five law enforcement agencies had destroyed rape kits. Rep. Melissa Wintrow said, “The entire country has to do better on this crime.” She added, “we have to understand bias, and we need to understand trauma-informed care and interviewing.”