Alameda County is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to reduce the amount of untested forensic evidence of sexual assaults — commonly called rape kits — with $41 million set aside by the federal government to help local police departments and crime laboratories analyze untested rape kits.
For the past six months, Oakland Police Department and a private Virginia lab helped test a backlog of rape kits that had piled up over time and contained DNA evidence that can be used to identify perpetrators. Of the kits that were tested, 55 percent contained usable DNA evidence, and 62 percent of those DNA profiles uploaded to a database matched known offenders already in the system.
Nationally, about 500,000 rape kits remain untested due to inadequate resources or a perceived lack of need to test collected samples. In cases where the rapist is known, police may not analyze the evidence despite the chance that it could tie the perpetrator to other crimes.
Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley has been collaborating with Rep. Mike Honda, D-San Jose, who has supported the plan at the federal level and helped secure the $41 million in funding, which will be used to address a nationwide lack of staffing and resources, according to district attorney spokesperson Teresa Drenick.
“It brings a sense of trust and justice to the victims of crime, who have this very invasive and long sexual assault examination, to know that the evidence taken from their bodies is going to be analyzed to help catch and prosecute the person who assaulted them,” Drenick said.
Honda asked FBI Director James Comey at an appropriations subcommittee hearing about the backlog of rape kits and suggested that the FBI change its policies to better use private laboratories in DNA analysis, which could expedite the process. Alameda County is set to be the first to execute these practices in a pilot program, which is in its planning stages.
Meghan Warner, a UC Berkeley sophomore and sexual assault survivor, said while she believes the county should be going through with the plan and clearing the backlog, rape kits should not be treated as a long-term solution to sexual violence, because few survivors opt to be forensically examined.
“I don’t think there should be a backlog in the first place, because it’s hurting people’s chances of getting the help they need, and it’s a way to invalidate survivors,” she said. “Lots of people know there’s a backlog, so why would they want to be another number in the backlog?”
Drenick said the county is now responsible for notifying the survivors whose rape kits have been analyzed and matched to a profile. Authorities are reopening investigations for evidence that has been matched and linked to other crimes.
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Oakland Police Department collaborated with a private Virginia lab to test a backlog of rape kits. In fact, Oakland Police Department tested its own backlog and the lab in Virginia tested those from various agencies in Alameda County.
A previous version of this article also stated that Oakland Police Department and the private Virginia lab collaborated to test a backlog of more than 1,000 rape kits. In fact, all of those rape kits were examined, but only some were tested by Oakland Police Department and the private Virginia lab.