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More than 5,000 rape kits remain untested in New Mexico

Jessi Lail says she is no longer ashamed of talking about her own rape. She’s become an advocate for sexual assault victims. The 26-year-old is now fighting to convince New Mexico lawmakers to clear a backlog of untested rape kits.

“It would make me feel invisible. It would make me feel as though law enforcement is essentially saying we don’t see crimes against your person worthwhile to pursue,” said Lail.

The discovery of New Mexico’s backlog stunned a state auditor and led to public outrage. Some of the kits dated back to the 1980s. This year, the state Legislature and Gov. Susana Martinez approved about $1 million to clear the backlog. Donna Richmond is the executive director of La Pinon Sexual Assault Recovery Services of Southern New Mexico.

“That’s 5,000 victims – 5,000 people out in our community who have had no answers. No answers,” Richmond said.

Over the last few months, Richmond says the Dona Ana County Sheriff’s Office and the Las Cruces Police Department have sent nearly 200 rape kits to a Department of Public Safety lab in Santa Fe for testing. And according to Richmond, they remain untested. Meanwhile, new kits are still being sent out.

In the past, investigators say there were many reasons a kit may not have been tested, though the evidence is kept. Sometimes, the victim does not want to pursue charges, or the suspect takes a plea deal. But Richmond argues all kits should be tested.

“Cases may be linked together. There may be DNA evidence in an untested rape kit that links to another tested rape kit where an offender has been identified,” said Richmond.

For Jessi Lail, the issue boils down to justice. And she is asking for one thing in particular.

“All of the support of the community to put all of the rapists that we can possibly find via these rape kits behind bars,” said Lail.

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