Advocates of sexual assault victims said the findings of a CBS46 investigation into untested rape kits are "very upsetting."These kits represent victims," said Jennifer Bivins, president of the Georgia Network to End Sexual Assault.
CBS46 found that both Athens-Clarke County and Cobb County police departments recently uncovered hundreds of rape kits that hadn't been sent to a crime lab for processing. ACCPD found 159 untested kits dating back to 1993, while Cobb police identified 365 untested kits dating back to the 1970's.
ACCPD Major Mark Sizemore said he wasn't surprised by the number because the department's previous policies didn't require officers to send kits to the crime lab if there was a question of whether the victim gave consent for sex, or if the victim didn't want police to investigate.
Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta reported it has 1490 untested kits in its rape crisis center. Hospital officials insisted most of the kits belong to victims who didn't want police involved.
Both police departments reported that they are beginning to test the kits, a process which could take more than a year.
A rape kit consists of evidence taken from a victim's body shortly after the assault. Under ideal circumstances, the kit is sent to a crime lab to identify the suspect's DNA, which is then uploaded into a national crime database called CODIS, which stands for Combined DNA Index System. It can help investigators determine whether the suspect had been involved in any previous attacks.
"There are a lot of reasons kits aren't tested," said Ilse Knecht, policy advisor for the nonprofit Joyful Heart Foundation, which is pushing police departments across the country to clear backlogs of untested kits. The organization is waiting for information from Atlanta police about any potential backlog.
Knecht said a lack of resources, understanding and policies led law enforcement in some communities to shelve kits and forget about them.
"When these kits go untested and we do not identify and prosecute these individuals, they are still on the streets," said Knecht.
Police in Houston identified and cleared 6,600 kits. Detroit is in the process of testing more than 11,000 kits and have identified DNA of 288 potential serial rapists, according to EndTheBacklog.org, the website for the Joyful Heart Foundation's national program.
Testing their backlog led Memphis police to Bridges Randle, 40, of Atlanta. The former police officer was working for the Boys and Girls Club of Metro Atlanta when police arrested and charged him for raping a woman in 2000.
Susan Cash Schuenemann, who was raped in 1985, said police deny victims justice when they fail to test rape kits.
"Its like free reign for rapists. They might as well go ahead and legalize [rape]," said Cash Schuenemann, who pushed Savannah police to test her kit until they told her it had been destroyed.
"[Victims] deserve that resolution," said Cash Schuenemann.
While police in Cobb and Athens-Clarke County said they have changed their policies to prevent any further backlogs, there's no law requiring police departments in Georgia to do the same. State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D), of Atlanta, has introduced House Bill 560, which would require police to determine the size of their backlog and follow new protocols.
"The legislation basically requires that there's now an accountability system for rape kits. They just can't sit on shelves and stay there forever. They have to be accounted for and ultimately sent to the GBI," said Holcombm who pointed out the bill has the support of police chiefs, the GBI and victims advocates.
Below is the entire statement from Grady Health System's media relations manager, Denise Simpson:
"Based on our interpretation of HIPAA, the federal patient privacy law, rape kits done at Grady become part of a victim's medical record, and, as such, are not turned over to law enforcement without the consent of the patient/victim or in pursuant to a court order or warrant. Most victims who request that a rape kit be done specifically state they do not want police contacted. The Grady Rape Crisis Center carefully follows chain of evidence protocols and keeps the kits in a secure area. When the victim notifies the rape crisis center that she/he has decided to report the assault to authorities, kits are turned over to police. Grady reexamines and updates all policies on a regular basis."Copyright 2015 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.