RALEIGH — At a press conference held on May 18, state lawmakers and Attorney General Josh Stein announced progress in clearing the state’s large rape-kit backlog.
“For many survivors of sexual assault, justice never comes,” said Sen. Warren Daniel (R-Burke) during the press conference. “In North Carolina, fewer than one in four defendants charged with sexual assault are convicted.”
In his remarks, Daniel called attention to legislation passed in 2019 addressing the backlog. The Standing Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019, also called the Survivor’s Act, contained funding provisions and new reporting requirements for testing of sexual assault kits by law enforcement.
“In 2016, members of the General Assembly were approached concerning a backlog of sexual assault evidence collection kits, often called rape kits, that had accumulated under the leadership of then-Attorney General Roy Cooper,” Daniel said.
Daniel said that the General Assembly took steps in 2019 to make sure kits were tested, including providing millions in funding, and that law enforcement is required to report kits that are collected within 24 hours.
The funding in the Survivor’s Act totals $6 million. Three million dollars were allocated in nonrecurring funds for the fiscal year 2019-2020 and another $3 million for 2020-2021.
Daniel said that in 2017, the legislature directed local law enforcement across the state and the N.C. Department of Justice to conduct an audit to see how many rape kits were untested.
“The results were shocking,” said Daniel. “More than 15,000 kits were untested and had accumulated under (AG) Cooper’s leadership — 15,000.”
The actual number of untested kits identified in the audit was 16,190. North Carolina was No. 1 in the country for most untested rape kits at the time the audit was conducted. The total may have been higher, due to the fact only 92% of law enforcement agencies responded to the inventory request and 46 agencies did not respond at all.
Daniel said, “As it is often said, justice delayed is justice denied.”
Stein thanked both Republicans and Democrats who came together on the Survivor Act.
Stein said that no matter how long ago a criminal committed the assault, “we will not stop coming for you.” He also said that both his office and lawmakers care about the safety of the public and are working to keep the public safe.
Stein said there were “many reasons” why these kits went untested, some of them decades old. He said some were not sent to the lab, and that technology is different today than when some of the kits were collected. He blamed the legislature for lack of funding, despite also saying that they didn’t know the size of the backlog.
“We didn’t know the scope of the problem until the legislature took action to order local law enforcement to do a count,” said Stein during the press conference.
Stein also blamed local district attorneys for not moving the backlog. He said it was “less important of how we got here today than how we move forward.”
Stein said the state has completed testing on almost 3,000 kits and that another 5,404 were in the process of being tested. The May 18 update resembles a statement released by Stein in late December 2020 that said 2,169 kits had been tested and 4,739 were currently either with the vendor lab for testing or preparing to ship to the vendor.
One-thousand-fifty-five are ready to be uploaded into a database used by law enforcement to compare DNA samples collected in other cases for possible matches to other crimes.
Of the 1,055, Stein said that 470 have produced a hit to a person or suspect in another sexual assault. Of the 470, 75% had a hit to an individual known to law enforcement.
Rep. Jamie Boles (R-Moore) said that “the test results from these kits provide new life to cold cases.”
Boles said the House would stay on top of the matter and provide additional funding and support to law enforcement.
Increased demand for testing of evidence kits has translated to an increase in prices by vendor labs. According to statement from Stein’s office, the price of a rape-kit test has “increased from about $700 a kit to $1,245 a kit, a jump of more than 75%.”
Last year, Stein said that the price of testing the kits had increased by “nearly 80%,” rising from $695 per kit to roughly $1,245 per kit.
The statement by Stein’s office also said that from 2018-19 to 2019-20, the number of sexual assault kit submissions had more than doubled, from 821 to 1,853.