More than half of the 16,000 sexual assault kits that sat untested in North Carolina for years have now been tested by a lab or are in the process, according to state Attorney General Josh Stein.
About 3,000 kits have been fully tested since the General Assembly passed a law to pay for clearing the backlog, Stein said. Those kits have led to at least 40 arrests that are related to at least 58 sexual assault cases in North Carolina, he said.
Speaking at the General Assembly this week, Stein said, “To the rapists and criminals: no matter how long ago you committed your crime, we will not stop coming for you.”
Of the 16,190 kits found in the backlog, 2,965 have been fully tested and another 5,404 are in process, Stein said.
“Since the state started testing the backlog of rape kits that were languishing on our shelves, our law enforcement officers and district attorneys have been able to bring long-awaited justice to many sexual assualt survivors across North Carolina,” said state Sen. Warren Daniel, a Republican from Burke County.
The state contracted with an outside lab to test the thousands of kits that had been piling up around North Carolina after the General Assembly passed The Survivor’s Act in 2018. That bill set aside $6 million to test the kits.
Some cities in North Carolina have applied for their own grants to test older sexual assault kits, including Raleigh, Durham and Fayetteville.
Stein is asking the General Assembly for another $9 million in this budget cycle to test the remaining kits.
The state attorney general said he hopes to have all of the kits tested in two years, by May 2023.
He said the cost of the tests has gone up from about $700 each to $1,245. He said this was a matter of supply and demand on private labs doing the testing.
“As a state, we’ve made incredible progress, but we aren’t anywhere near finished. As we’ve been going through this process, so have other states, so have other cities, and that means that the demand on the vendor labs is greater than ever,” Stein said.
He’s also asking legislators to fund 12 new jobs at the State Crime Lab, with half of those dedicated to DNA testing.
As North Carolina outsources testing for the older rape kits, all new DNA evidence from local police departments around the state is being tested in the State Crime Lab.
Stein said the state does this testing for local law enforcement for free. The demand from local police and sheriff’s offices is increasing as more and more investigators submit evidence to the state for analysis, Stein said.
“Law enforcement has more than doubled its annual submissions to the state crime lab,” Stein said. “That is a good thing. It means we do not have a backlog and we will be giving respect to each one of those victims.”
“Each kits comes from a person who suffered a terrible trauma, and then willingly provided evidence,” he said.
There’s been a lot of debate and political back-and-forth over how and why this backlog happened.
Daniel, a Republican, was quick to point out that these kits sat untested while Democrat Roy Cooper was North Carolina’s Attorney General.
“There are many reasons for why this backlog developed: law enforcement didn’t send it to the lab. The lab didn’t have the technology that it has today. The legislature didn’t fund it. We didn’t know what the scope of the problem was until the legislature took action,” Stein, a Democrat, said.
Both sides agree that these thousands of sexual assault kits need to be tested, and the state needs to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again.