The Youngstown Vindicator
October 5, 2014
Untested rape kits have become an issue in the Ohio attorney general’s race this fall. A rape kit is literally a small box utilized by hospitals and emergency health care providers to secure evidence from the victim of a sexual assault.
A rape kit typically includes microscope slides and plastic bags for storing evidence such as clothing fibers, hair, saliva, semen, or other bodily fluids. The Blade of Toledo reported that analyzing the contents of a rape kit can cost as much as $1,500.
Attorney General Mike DeWine made rape kit testing a major campaign issue during the 2010 attorney general’s race.
In December 2011, De-Wine offered free DNA testing to law-enforcement agencies with untested rape kits in cases where a crime was believed to have been committed. A total of 141 law enforcement agencies have submitted untested rape kits, according to WKYC-TV.
Some of the untested rape kits have been sitting in storage for years. The evidence was collected from patients who allowed medical staff to examine their bodies, though they refused to report the matter to police.
National DNA base
DeWine wrote in a Washington Post op-ed this summer, that as of the first of July, 8,001 kits had been submitted from around Ohio, and 4,108 have been tested. This has resulted in 1,474 matches with records in the national DNA database — 35 percent of all kits tested.
Women’s organizations and advocates for victims of sexual assault have voiced concern over testing of rape kits without permission or knowledge of the people who sought treatment. They suggest that unauthorized testing could prevent future rape victims from seeking medical treatment.
There is a difference between reporting an attack and choosing to press charges, according to the Rape, Assault, Incest National Network. A victim may choose not to immediately press charges following a report to police.
The reasons a patient may not want to become involved in the criminal justice system include a relationship with the perpetrator; fear of not being believed; past experience with law enforcement; concern over the reaction of family and friends or fear of retaliation by the perpetrator, Cricket Rerko, a sexual assault nurse examiner with the Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, told The Plain Dealer of Cleveland.
There is no prohibition against reporting a sexual assault months or even years after it occurs. However, advocates urge victims to contact the police as soon as possible allowing for preservation of evidence crucial to a successful prosecution.
The concern for some women who submitted to a rape kit and refused to report the matter to the police is that a prosecutor can move forward with charges based solely on the evidence presented and not the cooperation of the victim.
Sondra Miller, president of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center told the Plain Dealer, “Offering an option to submit an anonymous kit gives power and control back to the survivor and allows them to decide on their own time who finds out and when.”
DeWine’s office has often pointed to the progress made in processing rape kits and seeking John Doe indictments. The John Doe indictments ensure that the 20-year statute of limitations for rape does not expire before the unknown John Doe’s can be identified.
DeWine’s opponent in this fall’s election, David Pepper, has raised the rape kit issue in his campaign against DeWine. Pepper has denounced the backlog and has proposed involving local crime labs to speed up the analysis of rape kits and some political observers have suggested that the issue is fair game and a legitimate question for voters.
Matthew T. Mangino is of counsel with Luxenberg, Garbett, Kelly & George P.C. His book “The Executioner’s Toll, 2010” was recently released by McFarland Publishing. You can reach him at www.mattmangino.com and follow him on Twitter @MatthewTMangino)
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