NC’s rape kit backlog persists

North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein speaks in favor of protecting abortion access during a news conference at the North Carolina Department of Justice in Raleigh, N.C., on Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Stein, an abortion rights supporter, has voluntarily recused himself from his office's appeal in a case that could reinstate a 20-week abortion ban. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

RALEIGH — In 2017, North Carolina was number one in the nation for untested rape kits with a backlog of over 15,000. The state has made some headway into reducing the number of untested rape kits, but the backlog still hasn’t been cleared five years later. 

The number of kits in inventory currently stands at 16,223, according to early March numbers posted on the N.C. Department of Justice’s (NCDOJ) data dashboard. 

The dashboard says performs real-time updates and, as of March 6, the site says 8,918 kits have been tested, leaving 7,305 still in the inventory backlog. The NCDOJ’s dashboard also says 11,128 kits have been “submitted.” 

The kits are further broken down into categories, such as 11,516 requiring a DNA test.  Some 2,953 kits were apparently entered into the national Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). The dashboard says there have been 53 Arrests from CODIS hits and 105 arrests from CODIS hits across “all sexual assault cases.” 

Recent misreporting has confused the total number of kits in the backlog with those currently awaiting testing. 

One North Carolina media outlet reported that “North Carolina has about 1,800 kits waiting to be tested for DNA, according to the Attorney General’s Office.” That report was interpreted as “about 1,800 untested kits left in the state,” by End The Backlog, a national group tracking rape kit testing. 

 North State Journal contacted Stein’s office to clarify the matter. 

“The 1,800 number was the number of kits pending testing at the State Crime Lab as of January 2023, not kits from the backlog of untested kits in law enforcement custody,” a communications spokesperson for Stein wrote in an email response. “These 1,800 were kits that were submitted dating back to September 2021. Currently, the Lab is testing kits dating back to January 2022 submissions.”  

The spokesperson also wrote that “Of the backlog kit numbers on the dashboard, not all kits of the 16,000 inventory will be tested based on the criteria in the Survivor Act. The DNA test required number is the number of kits that law enforcement have reviewed and determined meet the criteria for testing.” 

The large number of untested kits in North Carolina saw some movement pre-pandemic but hasn’t been addressed much in recent years. 

In February 2018, N.C Attorney General Josh Stein released a report on the kit backlog which found 15,160 untested sexual assault kits in the custody of local law enforcement agencies at the end of 2017.  

Two reports on the kits issued by Stein’s office included the Statewide Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit Tracking and Inventory Management System (STIMS) report and the Annual Crime Lab (ACL) report. 

The total of untested kits may have actually 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. 

The following year, in September 2019, Stein’s office said 904 sexual assault kits had been tested “since January 2018.” A subsequent update by Stein in December 2020 said 2,169 kits had been tested and 4,739 were either with a lab for testing or were being shipped for testing. 

One of the barriers to clearing the backlog and speeding up testing has been cost.  

According to statements by Stein in 2020, the price of testing kits at that time had increased by “nearly 80%.” Costs had gone from $695 per kit to roughly $1,245 per kit. 

Lawmakers stepped in, creating the “Standing Up for Rape Victims Act of 2019,” also called the Survivor’s Act. 

The measure provided $6 million in funding and new reporting requirements for testing of sexual assault kits by law enforcement. Of the $6 million, half was allocated in nonrecurring funds for fiscal year 2019-2020 and the other half for fiscal year 2020-2021. 

About A.P. Dillon 889 Articles
A.P. Dillon is a North State Journal reporter located near Raleigh, North Carolina. Find her on Twitter: @APDillon_