Every two minutes a woman in the United States is sexually assaulted. And what's worse, hundreds of thousands of them are waiting years, even decades, for their rape kits - which include evidence collected from their bodies after the assault - to be tested.
Rosa Pickett was raped while out for a quiet walk.
"He had a belt and put it around my neck, and he was choking me. And we were tussling from one side of the street to the middle of the street, all the way over to the other side of the street," Pickett explained.
She was raped on September 3rd, 1977, in a small wooded area off of a sidewalk in her neighborhood in Philadelphia. But 36 years later, Pickett's case remains unsolved.
"[The police] said, ‘we're working on it, we're working on it.' But actually, in reality, no one was working on it," she said. It's just one of the thousands of backlogged rape cases across the country awaiting investigation.
Julie Smolyansky founded the non-profit Test400K this year after learning more than 400,000 untested rape kits are sitting untouched in police storage facilities around the country, some dating back more than three decades.
"Less than 20% of evidence in sexual assault cases have ever been tested in our country," said Smolyansky. "I am appalled that this could have happened and we treat this evidence worse than we treat the garbage in my alley."
Statistics show a woman is twice as likely to be raped in her lifetime as to develop breast cancer. Yet, 97 percent of rapists will never spend a day in jail.
"It's a public safety issue for every single one of us," Smolyansky said. "It means every time that a kit isn't tested, that is not analyzed, that means a perpetrator walks free."
The cost of testing forensic evidence from a rape kit is $1,200. While law enforcement agencies sight lack of resources as the top reason why they haven't tested the kits, Smolyansky says she isn't buying it.
"I would like to empower others to also rise up and speak up and say, ‘this is not okay,' and fight for our rights together," she said.
Together with other women's rights groups, she's asking Congress to approve a $117 million budget for testing in 2014. Pickett believes it's a small price to pay.
"One woman can make a difference in a lot of lives. And I'm hoping that my life, my testimony will make a difference with all these women of rape," Pickett said.
While more money from Congress could help solve thousands of crimes, the statute of limitations has run out for many of them; meaning even if a match is found, the perpetrator cannot be prosecuted.
Still, advocates say testing the kits can help provide closure to victims and may help tie perpetrators to other crimes. For more information on how you can help log to onto Test400k.org.
A sexual assault is defined as a sexual act or contact which takes place without given consent. Sexual assaults overwhelmingly affect women and are becoming increasingly more common. Some of these acts include: child molestation, attempted rape, sexual intercourse, fondling, forcible sodomy, and incest. (Source: ovw.usdoj.gov/sexassault.htm)
Rape Kits: A rape kit is a type of evidence collection kit that is generally helpful in catching the perpetrator. After the sexual assault, the victim can go to any hospital and be examined by a trained professional to test for any DNA that the criminal left behind. The kit entails:
- Documentation forms
- Bags and sheets for evidence collection
- Blood collection devices
Test400K: Test400K is a nonprofit organization that focuses on advocating for the 400,000 untested rape kits across the country to be tested so cases can be closed and victims can be given a semblance of peace. Some of these kits date back more than 30 years. The $1,200 cost of testing the kit is part of the problem, but the inherent sexism in the police business is a large part of it as well. It would now cost half a billion dollars to have all of the rape kits tested. (Source: test400k.org/our-history)