Why Every Governor in the U.S. Just Received a Rape Kit

Crucial evidence often is lost during investigations, and suspects get away. One organization has an idea for how to fix that.

(Photo: Test400k/Facebook)

Aug 14, 2016· 2 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

On Wednesday morning, California Gov. Jerry Brown’s office received a FedEx package containing a standard issue rape kit. Chicago-based organization Test400k, which sent the kit, is certain the office received it: FedEx’s online tracking system shows the package’s journey from the Midwest to the Golden State, including a stopover in Memphis, after which it was dropped off and signed for on Wednesday at 9:16 a.m.

The ease of tracking a piece of mail is something Test400k wants to replicate when it comes to tracking rape kits.

“We need a tracking system that links from the moment the victim provides rape kit evidence, from the hospital to the police back to the crime lab, with updates on testing and what happens when it comes back to the police department,” Deanne Benos, Test400k’s executive director, told TakePart.

To highlight the simplicity of implementing such a system, the organization sent rape kits to the governors of all 50 states using a system that has been tracking millions of packages around the world every day for decades.

(Photo: Test400k/Facebook)

“We’re trying to force these governors to face the fact that this is a problem,” Benos said. “They can’t ignore it if a rape kit lands on their desk.”

Along with the sample rape kit, each package contains a document detailing the process of undergoing a forensic exam along with the organization’s call to action. Test400k is asking state leaders to commit to testing every rape kit collected in their state within 15 to 30 days and to create a system that tracks the kits and notifies victims when testing is complete.

While states such as California and Louisiana have developed rapid testing systems that allow for analysis within a matter of weeks, many others, including Pennsylvania and Illinois, have a six-month window for testing. Several states—including Vermont and Wyoming—do not mandate any timetable for rape kit analysis, according to Test400k. Nationwide, an estimated 400,000 backlogged rape kits sit in labs, untested, while in the vast majority of cases, the perpetrators remain free.

Benos says establishing a tracking system is essential to creating efficiency, granting survivors a way to hold law enforcement officials accountable.

The tracking system would “honor the rights of survivors to get information about the status of their kits—and on their terms,” she said.

She concedes that developing a tracking system could be costly for state governments on tight budgets, but she says that it would benefit society in the long run. Failing to swiftly investigate a case could leave perpetrators with the ability to re-offend. Such was the case in Detroit, where in 2009, thousands of rape kits were found untested in a warehouse. More than 650 kits revealed repeat offenders.

So far, two governors have endorsed the organization’s goals: Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. Benos is confident that more will follow.

“This is a scandal,” she said. “It’s not only a justice issue for the victims of those crimes but for everyone and everyone’s public safety in this country.”