A new $79m initiative to tackle the backlog won’t address the fact that many officers still treat rape survivors with suspicion and scorn

The nearly 80,000 rape kits taken from sexual assault victims that have gone untested for so long haven’t just been ignored for financial reasons. Yes, local police departments sometimes lack resources - but what too many are also missing is the ability to treat victims of sexual violence with respect.

After years of sitting on dusty shelves - shamefully ignored by police departments across the country - tens of thousands of rape kits will finally be tested. On 10 September, Vice President Joe Biden and New York City District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced a $79m initiative to start to whittle down the backlog.

Vance said: “I’m saying today to all the women awaiting justice, you are not forgotten ... we will prevent future rapes by taking rapists off the streets, but the grants will do more than test kits - they will provide closure for victims and families.”

But will they? Getting evidence from sexual assaults properly tested and processed is an undoubtedly an important part of the criminal justice system. But fully processed kits are not a magic bullet to putting rapists in jail, and they certainly don’t make amends to victims who have been poorly treated and their cases ignored.

When Michigan State University professor Rebecca Campbell conducted a multi-year study of untested rape kits in Detroit, for example, she reported that it wasn’t just “chronic resource depletion” that led to the backlog - but “police treating victims in dehumanizing ways.”

“[L]aw enforcement personnel regularly expressed negative, stereotyping beliefs about sexual assault victims. Victims who were assumed to be prostitutes were considered to be at fault for what had happened to them. Adolescents were often assumed to be lying, trying to avoid getting into trouble with their families by concocting a false story about being raped. Friends/acquaintances had got‐what‐they‐got because they had chosen to associate with the perpetrator. 

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