What is the Rape Kit “Backlog”?

When a person reports a rape to police, he or she may be asked to submit to a forensic examination. During the examination, which usually occurs soon after an assault and commonly lasts four to six hours, the victim’s body is photographed, swabbed, and scraped for evidence collection in the hopes of finding DNA. Yet across the country, police departments have failed to investigate rape cases, sometimes closing cases without testing forensic evidence from the rape kit.
Unfortunately, a false narrative has taken hold in the public imagination. This is the “backlog” myth.

Ohio Public Defender Tim Young, whose office has appealed convictions stemming from Cleveland’s previously untested rape kits, criticized the contradictions in emerging rape kit folklore. As reported by the Plain Dealer:

Young said there is a fantastical narrative being wound publicly that DNA testing didn’t exist to police previously and is now miraculously solving cases. “We’ve had DNA testing since the mid-1990s. They (law enforcement) were dilatory in not using it. It’s a continuation of broken police culture that places the police first, not the victims, the defendants – or justice,” he said.

People for the Enforcement of Rape Laws is a program of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center to monitor law enforcement responses to sexual violence, develop peer advocacy, and organize for criminal justice reform. We urge you to learn more about America’s hidden rape crisis, where it has been exposed, and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support our efforts to make sure law enforcement takes rape seriously.