JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - The state of Georgia is making a big push to get untested rape kits checked by crime labs.
Rape kits are used to identify a perpetrator through DNA testing, and both Georgia and Florida have backlogs of thousands of untested kits.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation in April to help push thousands of kits through the testing system.
The Women’s Center of Jacksonville in Arlington is working with the state to get a local backlog of kits tested.
Officials at the center said that there is a backlog of 1,400 kits in Duval and Nassau counties, but they should all be submitted to the state crime lab by February, about nine months sooner then officials anticipated.
“I think we’re actually ahead of the game,” said Robin Graber, director of Rape Recovery Team Programs for the Women's Center. “I don’t think we thought we would be done sending the kits before October 2017, so February 2017, we’re pretty happy about it.”
Graber said the state’s goal is to have all kits tested by 2019, which would be a huge step toward giving victims closure, because in some cases the perpetrators still haven’t been caught.
“If the DNA comes back, they may be able to prosecute,” Graber said. “There’s some things about statutes of limitations, but there’s also the Williams rule. So if there’s a serial offender, if we have the backlog of cases that we now know there’s a serial offender, we can still bring those perpetrators to court.”
Since the issue of the backlog came to light in the last few years, a group called the Joyful Heart Foundation has pushed to get the kits tested. The group is helping draw a lot of the federal funding that is pushing the kits through testing.
The group, which has been behind fighting the backlog in Georgia, says there are roughly 3,500 kits that need to be tested statewide.
News4Jax crime and safety analyst Gil Smith said many rape cases are solved with other evidence, but there are some in which DNA evidence is critical.
“That’s almost like a fingerprint, depending on the situation, if someone is identified by a rape kit,” Smith said.
Smith said that if police have a pool of possible suspects, the rape kit results could provide them with enough information to compel a saliva swab test that could then be matched to DNA results to identify the perpetrator.
According to officials from the Women's Center, law enforcement officials indicated many of the DNA kits weren't tested because officers already had a suspect and testing the kit was a waste of money. But now with many federal grants, they have the money to test each one.
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