Virginia has eliminated its backlog of rape kits, processing thousands of tests in a five-year project, Attorney General Mark Herring said.
“Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits has been completely eliminated and it’s never coming back,” Herring said Wednesday at a press conference in Richmond, Virginia.
While DNA is helping to solve more and more crimes, even those decades old, the backlog of unprocessed rape kits has long been a problem nationwide. According to End the Backlog, a program of the national non-profit Joyful Heart Foundation, it’s estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of them across the country.
“This initiative that has focused on the backlog of rape kits tells our citizens that Virginia cares about victims of sexual assault,” said sexual assault survivor and advocate Debbie Smith.
A federal law passed late last year — the Debbie Smith Reauthorization Act — is aimed at eliminating the backlog around the country by providing funding from the Justice Department to help local officials work through their unprocessed kits.
Virginia is only the seventh state in the country to eliminate its rape kit backlog, according to Herring.
“It’s taken a lot of work but eliminating this backlog means that a wrong has been righted, that justice is closer for more survivors and that Virginia is a safer place,” Herring said.
Virginia’s investigators and forensic scientists tested 2,665 kits, uploaded 851 new DNA profiles into the national DNA database, and sent 354 matches to law enforcement agencies for further investigation, Herring said.
Charges are already pending against one man as a result of the project, and officials anticipate more charges may be filed in light of new evidence, the attorney general said.
The mandatory use of a physical evidence recovery kit (PERK) tracking system will ensure kits are submitted for testing in a timely manner going forward, eliminating future backlogs, said Linda Jackson, director of the Virginia Department of Forensic Sciences.