By Christine McDonald
There is a sexual assault taking place right now. Every 68 seconds, someone in America is sexually assaulted. More than 97% of perpetrators get off scot-free.
A major reason is mismanagement of physical evidence. The evidence in a sexual-assault investigation is typically the product of a six-hour physical exam conducted by a medical professional, who searches the victim’s body for any material—like DNA—that could help identify the perpetrator. The information and material gathered is known as a “sexual assault kit.”
As a survivor of sex trafficking and current advocate for victims, I know firsthand how invasive and retraumatizing these exams can be. But we believe that the information collected will help deliver justice.
That faith is often misplaced. In far too many cases, the evidence in sexual assault kits is never used.
The state of California, for instance, reported a backlog of more than 13,000 untested kits in 2020. Every unprocessed kit represents a crime left unsolved—and a perpetrator likely to attack again.
Court cases often require proof of the “chain of custody” for a piece of evidence. Prosecutors need to be able to prove the whereabouts of a rape kit. That evidence may be on the move for years. And if a defendant challenges the chain of custody, even a minor mistake can lead to an acquittal.
Today, any given sexual assault has just a 31% chance of ever being reported to the police. Why go through an invasive, demeaning physical exam if the evidence is going to end up in a storage closet—or if mismanagement by police is going to let the rapist off on a technicality?
There’s no excuse for losing track of evidence in 2022. We have the technology to get more perpetrators of sexual assault off the street. We need California law enforcement agencies to deploy those tools so victims aren’t telling their stories in vain.
Christine McDonald is an author, speaker and advocate for victims of human trafficking and sexual assault. www.christinespeaksministry.com