As a result of Melissa’s Law, passed six months ago, several hundred rape kits have now been tested that were sitting in the state of Oregon’s storage. The state passed a law to test the backlog of untested rape kits and to speed up the amount of time allowed for new tests. The state of Oregon has sent hundreds of kits to Utah for testing, but thousands remain untested despite over 30 DNA matches so far.
Across the country, thousands of rape kits go into storage without ever being tested for DNA. High-profile cases such as the recent rape and murder of Vanessa Marcotte in Massachusetts get national attention for DNA searches, according to the Inquisitr, but many are never examined before being put in storage. Many of these kits sit for years, with the DNA degrading, without the attempt to make a match on the state or national level. Laws like Melissa’s Law are bringing attention to the backlog of untested rape kits.
The backlog of untested rape kits is not just a problem in Oregon but in virtually every municipality in the United States. Now, with Melissa’s Law, named for Melissa Bittler, who at the age of 14 was raped, sodomized, and murdered in the backyard of a neighbor while on her way to school in 2001, the problem is being addressed. If rape kits had been run on three of the rapes of other teenagers committed in 1997, Melissa’s rapist would have been behind bars, unable to harm anyone else’s child.
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In 2002, Bittler’s family was assured that police were working to eliminate the untested rape kit backlog, but by 2016, they found that the number of untested kits had more than doubled as time progresses. Bittler’s family put their suffering into a fight to pass a law that all tests must be run in an expedient manner.
“We’re calling on the Oregon House to pass Melissa’s Bill, which will require police to pick up rape kits within seven days of a hospital alerting them and submit the kit for testing within 14 days of receipt.”
Captain Alex Garner of the Oregon State Police says that 33 previously untested rape kits have now been successfully matched to DNA within the system, says the Mail Tribune. Garner provided this information to that statewide task force charged with eliminating the rape kit backlog. Several hundred tests have been sent to the lab in Utah, but that is just part of the five thousand kits that were being warehoused.
The state of Oregon is trying to wipe out the backlog, while also running the new tests that sadly come in each day. The funding that comes along with Melissa’s Law is also being used to train new analysts to read the kits in-state.
“Many on the outside are thinking, ‘Well, you got approval for the money, why aren’t we seeing improvement?’ The answer is, we’re going to see improvement probably about 18 months after these people are hired.”
But Oregon, with its 5,000 untested rape kits, is just a small percentage of the untested kits nationally. Ohio, for example, has over fourteen thousand untested rape kits, according to Endthebacklog.org. Actress Mariska Hargitay, of the show Law and Order: SVU, has personally adopted the cause of the backlog of untested rape kits.
“To me, the backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. For that reason, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority.”
The testing of rape kits makes every community safer and takes violent criminals off of the streets.
Do you know how many untested rape kits are in your state?
[Featured Image by Mario Villafuerte/Getty Images]