The DNA evidence in a sexual assault kit ("rape kit"), collected from a victim's body after a rape, can provide critical investigative information. Yet new data collected by Human Rights Watch suggests that in Illinois, years after the crime, only one in five rape kits collected by police is tested. This gap represents lost justice for rape victims I Used to Think the Law Would Protect Me examines the reasons for the gap. In our year-long investigation, we sought data from 264 state and local law enforcement agencies in Illinois. While not all responded, we received rape kit data from 127 agencies on the status of 7,494 rape kits booked into police storage in Illinois over the past 15 years. Of that total, only 1,474, or 19.7 percent, were confirmed as tested.
In addition to untested rape kits in police storage facilities, we found an inadequate law enforcement response to reported sexual assaults; a shortage of sexual assault nurse examiners to collect evidence for rape kits; insufficient hospital treatment facilities for rape victims; and testing delays at the state crime laboratory. There is new reason to hope that this will soon change: a recent Illinois law, if signed by the governor, will begin to correct the state's abysmal record of response to rape. In 2010, when it passed the Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act, the Illinois legislature became the first in the country to require that every rape kit collected by law enforcement be sent to the state crime lab for testing. Nevertheless, our research raises questions regarding the crime lab's capacity to handle the enormous influx of untested rape kits it will receive under the law's provisions.
The United States is party to a number of treaties that acknowledge rape as a human rights abuse and require the US to ensure the protection of individuals from sexual assault and rape and to prosecute the perpetrators. If Illinois public officials wish to implement good public safety policy standards and human rights law they should move decisively to provide the resources necessary to implement the 2010 Sexual Assault Evidence Submission Act and test all rape kit evidence in Illinois.