A backlog of rape kits, many of which have gone untested for 30 years, has finally been cleared, the Orange County District Attorney’s Office announced Tuesday. The office hopes that the newly tested kits could bring justice to hundreds of victims of rape.
Orange County had 6,480 sexual assault kits in its inventory. Of those, 3,791, many dating back several decades, were untested, KTLA reports.
The D.A.’s office used a $1.86 million grant from the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, to form the Orange County Sexual Assault Forensic Endeavor, also called OC SAFE, to gather and inventory thousands of sexual assault kits.
In 2016, the program began appraising the kits for testing and found that about 1,700 were fit to be tested by the Orange County Crime Lab.
The kits were tested in order of how likely they would be to lead to criminal charges being filed, according to the DA’s office.
Since then, hundreds of new DNA profiles have been uploaded to the FBI’s national DNA database. Criminal charges have been filed in six cold cases. Of course, the results might have been better had the authorities not waited decades to test the rape kits.
“Every one of these untested sexual assault kits represents a victim who deserves justice,” said Orange County District Attorney Todd Spitzer in a news release.
“By clearing the backlog, we fulfilled a promise to every victim of sexual assault that the Orange County District Attorney’s Office will never stop fighting for victims and we will never stop fighting for justice,” Spitzer added.
There are cold cases that have opened again due to the newly tested kits. One was a 28-year-old case where a man kidnapped a couple at gunpoint while impersonating a police officer saying he was looking into reports of prostitution in the area. The perpetrator got in their car with them, held them at gunpoint, and told them to drive to another location, where he told the man to leave the car, then raped the woman.
He then had the couple drive around Orange County at gunpoint before stealing their wallets, and ultimately their car, saying he would kill them if they reported what had happened. The woman’s rape kit went untested for 25 years, but the DNA profile it yielded allegedly identified her attacker. While criminal charges were filed against Michael Ray Armijo in 2021, the statute of limitations for rape had expired.
OC Safe says the biggest reason for rape kits going untested was a “limitation of technology” and too little funding and properly trained staff members. Resources that are used to test rape kits are often pulled in other directions—toward other criminal cases like homicides and DUIs.
Changes have been made to prevent such a backlog from building up again, authorities say.
OC Safe stresses a better cooperation between law enforcement, crime labs, and the people who are qualified to perform and collect evidence in a rape kit. For example, qualified nurses who collect evidence for rape kits can bring the kits directly to the Orange County Crime Lab to be tested.
As as of 2016, law enforcement agencies are required by California law to submit forensic sexual assault evidence to a crime lab within 20 days of it being collected.
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