Work being done to get more rape kits tested in North Carolina

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — The Attorney General announced an additional $2 million dollars to put towards fixing the backlog of untested rape kits in North Carolina on Tuesday.

But FOX8 wanted to find out how things have changed since the 2017 statistics of each law enforcement district’s untested kits were released.

Catherine Rossi, the forensic nursing program manager at Cone Health, works with people, mainly women who walk into her exam rooms after a sexual assault.

After more than two decades as a forensic nurse, she says the rising number of untested rape kits is not necessarily a surprise.

“We have a large number of kits in the state that were never even processed,” Rossi said. “So when you say there’s a backlog, it’s not uncommon for it to be 18-24 months for someone to get their results back from an evidence kit.”

Some changes have been made since those 2017 numbers, showing 15,160 untested kits in the state were released in March 2018.

One of the most important changes, Rossi explains, is an online inventory system that shows the victim, law enforcement and state crime lab where the kit is and the status of the process.

“If they process your kit,” she adds.

Rossi says only a small percentage of rape kits are sent to the state crime lab.

“The minority of sexual assaults and rapes are what we call a ‘stranger rape,'” she explains. “That would be someone you’ve never met breaking into your home and raping you.”

Those kits are usually the ones that get processed.

Rossi tells FOX8 that the majority of kits never do.

“If [the attacker] states [the attack] was consensual, his DNA is going to be present,” she adds. “And then you have to prove consent which is an exceptionally difficult concept to prove.”

It’s a decision, not necessarily a backlog, that Rossi believes keeps the kits sitting on the shelves.

“Depending on which law enforcement agency and which prosecutors you have will really determine whether or not your assault is taken seriously or not. It’s just not a consistent standard,” she said.

While the proposed Survivor Act will fund more hires at the state crime lab, Rossi believes it’s only a step in the right direction, and not enough to make real change.

“Other states process 100 percent of the kits and law enforcement no longer gets a say in who’s kit gets processed,” she said. “[In other states] once they start processing all of them, they found all of these predators that were hiding.”

FOX8 did check in with the Greensboro Police Department to see if they had updated numbers.

A spokesperson tells FOX8 that out of the 57 kits they received from Jan. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018, 10 have been sent to the crime lab. The rest are getting processed.

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