Alabama’s Jefferson County is spending $1.5 million on testing thousands of backlogged rape kits in an attempt to catalog its rape data from the last 19 years, media outlets reported Thursday.
Alabama has reported more than 27,000 rape cases since 1998, and 21 percent of them were in Jefferson County, AL.com reported Thursday. The county had a rape rate of 51 cases per 100,000 residents in 2015, while the national average was only 39 per 100,000. Jefferson county has a population of 660,000, by far the largest in a state with only four counties exceeding 200,000 residents.
“With 27 jurisdictions and two DA’s offices, additional resources are needed to develop a common language and protocol for addressing sexual assault county-wide. The inventory should give us a clear picture of the status of the kits in our county,” District Attorney Danny Carr told AL.com.
The county doesn’t yet know the total number of untested rape kits that is has, according to the DA’s office. The $1.5 million granted to the DA’s office will go toward taking inventory and creating a database for the the information. Furthermore, since Alabama has no statute of limitations on rape and sexual assault cases, the DA’s office can use data collected from the rape kits to prosecute any potential suspects, regardless of when the crime was committed.
In order to handle the additional cases, the county is hiring three court advocates to assist sexual crime survivors through the justice system, as well as a prosecutor specifically devoted to sexual assault and rape cases.
Ilse Knecht, a policy director at a foundation pursuing justice for Alabama sex crime victims, called the testing of the rape kits “the first step toward comprehensive reform.”
Knecht claimed that the number of untested rape kits tells both offenders and victims that Alabama’s justice system is soft on rape and sexual assault, AL reported.
Knecht’s Joyful Heart Foundation is calling for states across the country to pursue testing for their rape kits. The foundation recorded more than 140,000 untested rape kits in the 27 states for which it had data in 2016. However, the organization said there is no accurate figure for the national total.
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin created a rape kit task force in April to address her state’s backlog as well, and the California legislature considered a bill in May to find out how many rape kits it has left untested.
Law enforcement officers are generally hostile toward blanket requirements for testing rape kits, as each one can cost anywhere from $500-$1500 to process, the Los Angeles Times Reported.
Advocates like Knecht, however, argue that law enforcement should give rape and sexual assault cases the priority they deserve.
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