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February 24, 2014

Bills seek to tackle backlog of untested rape kits

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — With possibly hundreds of thousands of rape kits untested across the country, a number of states are proposing legislation to address backlogs that in at least one case dates back nearly three decades.

In Memphis, Tenn., alone, there are more than 12,000 untested rape kits going back to the 1980s, according to the New York-based Rape Kit Action Project, which has been tracking the backlogs nationwide. In the entire state of Texas, there are about 16,000 untested kits collecting dust in police evidence rooms.

Tennessee is among at least 17 states with proposals that range from requiring law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits to analyzing them in a certain amount of time. Three states — Colorado, Illinois and Texas — have passed laws that mandate a statewide accounting of untested rape kits.

Most of the other states’ proposals favor the inventory measure that would require all law enforcement agencies that store rape kits to count the number of untested kits. Rape Project spokeswoman Natasha Alexenko estimates there are about 400,000 nationwide that fall into that category.

“Until we enact this kind of legislation where we’re counting them, we really have no idea,” said Alexenko, a rape victim whose rape kit was finally tested after nearly 10 years, and her attacker arrested after a match was found.

Rape victim Meaghan Ybos of Memphis has been crusading for legislation to address the backlogs for several years. The 27-year-old was 16 when she was sexually assaulted in her suburban home in 2003. She underwent a forensic rape exam, but never heard anything else about her kit.

In 2012, she was watching the local news and learned police had arrested a suspected serial rapist in the same neighborhood where she lived.

“I just knew it was the same person,” recalled Ybos, who called police, told them about her assault and persuaded them to reopen her case. Her rape kit was eventually examined and the suspect’s DNA and that in her kit matched. The suspect pleaded guilty in her case and is currently incarcerated.

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