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SC has hundreds of untested rape kits. This 2020 hopeful wants to eliminate the backlog

What happens in a rape kit exam?

A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.
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A sexual assault evidence kit contains forensic evidence gathered from a victim's body during an intrusive, hours-long examination. Testing kits can find DNA evidence used to identify rapists, boost prosecutions or exonerate the falsely accused.

In South Carolina, more than 1,800 rape kits are waiting to be tested, but presidential hopeful Kamala Harris has a plan to eliminate that backlog.

The plan, which was announced Thursday afternoon, would dole out $1 billion to help states test every rape kit in their backlog within four years, according to a statement from the California Democratic senator’s campaign.

Conducting DNA testing on a rape kit costs between $1,000 and $1,500, according to End The Backlog, an organization aimed at raising awareness and promoting testing of examined kits. To test all the kits that were reported untested in South Carolina, the state would need anywhere between $1.8 million and $2.7 million, though that number is likely higher.

“The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault and rape,” Harris said, according to the statement. “As California’s Attorney General, I committed resources and attention to clearing a backlog of 1,300 untested rape kits at state-run labs, and we got it done within my first year in office. We need the same focus at the national level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable.”

While serving as California attorney general, Harris successfully eliminated the state lab’s rape kit backlog and shortened the average testing period to 30 days or less. To expedite the process, Harris relied on new technologies and robotics to analyze evidence, according to a 2012 statement from her office.

The effort received an award from the U.S. Department of Justice.

Though Harris’ actions in California made a significant impact in state labs, local police departments are still working on their own backlogs, according to End the Backlog.

After the backlog was eliminated, the program would spend $100 million a year to ensure that kits can be tested in a timely fashion and prevent further back up in the system.

For states to qualify for federal program dollars, they would be required to count and report their backlog; submit and test all kits within a “short time frame,” though the campaign did not specify an exact time; track kits and allow victims to know their status; and increase the availability of kits across the state, with a focus of expanding to rural or remote areas.

If states don’t want the federal funding to eliminate the backlog, under Harris’ plan, they would have the option to team up with the FBI to process rape kits, according to the statement.

Though the statement did not point to a specific way to fund the $100 million-a-year initiative, the campaign said the program’s annual cost amounted to less than what the government spent on President Donald Trump’s golf outings. In May, the Huffington Post reported Trump’s outings cost taxpayers more than $102 million since his inauguration with costs stemming from security and travel.

Congress would have to approve any proposal involving spending federal dollars.

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Emily Bohatch helps cover South Carolina’s government for The State. She also updates The State’s databases. Her accomplishments include winning a Green Eyeshade award in Disaster Reporting in 2018 for her teamwork reporting on Hurricane Irma. She has a degree in Journalism with a minor in Spanish from Ohio University’s E. W. Scripps School of Journalism.
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