5 takeaways from CNN's investigation into rape kit destruction
Updated 10:12 AM ET, Thu November 29, 2018
Chat with us in Facebook Messenger. Find out what's happening in the world as it unfolds.
An examination into the destruction of rape kits in dozens of agencies across the country found that police trashed evidence in 400 cases before the statutes of limitations expired or when there was no time limit to prosecute.
The number is likely higher and was calculated by analyzing the departments' own records.
The destruction occurred since 2010 and followed flawed and incomplete police investigations.
Most of the kits were untested, CNN found, and dozens were discarded mere weeks or months after police took custody of the evidence.
Journalists long ago brought to light the failure of law enforcement agencies to send thousands of rape kits to be analyzed for DNA. That revelation ignited national outrage, prompted the passage of laws ordering the testing of rape kits and spurred the Justice Department to award more than $150 million to help analyze the backlog.
"Destroyed" exposes a lesser-known and more fundamental problem:
The rape kits are gone. They can never be used to lock up a rapist or exonerate the wrongfully convicted.
1. 'A systemic problem'
A rape kit should be maintained for at least the length of time a crime can be prosecuted, experts told CNN.
Yet decisions about whether and when to destroy this evidence, CNN found, were made without considering the statutes of limitations.
Some police departments defended the destruction of kits tied to closed cases that they believed had no chance of moving forward, such as when a prosecutor declined to bring a charge or when a victim who reported being raped stopped engaging with police.
But experts called that short-sighted.
Anything can develop in a case while the statute of limitations is still running. New evidence can emerge or a victim may decide to work again with police, for example.
"What CNN discovered is a systemic problem," said retired Sergeant Joanne Archambault, who ran the San Diego Police Department's sex crimes unit for a decade.
"You're not serious about solving rape cases if you destroy rape kits before the statute of limitations [expires]."
Archambault was among the experts CNN asked to review cases that ended in kit destruction.
"There are mistakes in these cases," she said, "but the worst mistake in each is the destruction of evidence."
2. The destruction of kits is a tragedy as troubling as the backlog
Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy's office has fought to test the backlog of 10,000 unanalyzed kits in Wayne County, Michigan. That effort identified at least 833 suspects linked to more than one sex crime. Testing kits can not only solve crimes, it can prevent future ones by stopping would-be repeat perpetrators before they strike again.
Worthy was stunned to hear that law enforcement agencies have destroyed rape kits -- most of them never analyzed.
"All the attention toward untested kits isn't enough if we have agencies destroying kits."
She isn't just a prosecutor. She's a survivor. Worthy was raped in law school, she said, and -- like an estimated 68% of rape and sexual assault victims nationally -- she chose not to report her attack.
It's a triumph, she said, when a victim musters the courage to undergo an hours-long, invasive forensic examination with the hope that the DNA recovered will aid police in pursuing their assailant.
"Each one of these kits represents a victim," Worthy said. "What you are doing when you destroy a rape kit is destroying the chance that they are ever going to see justice."