Many rape kits go unanalyzed, speaker says
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 03:05
Natasha Alexenko, who survived a sexual assault in 1993, spoke to students last week about the obstacles that prevent some suspects from being charged with or convicted of crimes like rape.
Alexenko, founder of Natasha’s Justice Project, an organization that tries to help victims by decreasing the number of unprocessed physical evidence in rape cases, said the odds that a suspect in a sexual assault will be convicted.
“A rape victim has only a one in five chance of having his or her perpetrator come to face justice,” Alexenko told an audience Wednesday in Gore Hall, to recognize Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
Alexenko was raped by a man who went unidentified for more than a decade before DNA evidence revealed who he was. However, because the five-year statute of limitation had passed he was not convicted of her rape. In 2006, state legislators removed the limit on when rape victims could report the crime to authorities.
The suspect was convicted with eight other counts of sexual assault that he had committed after attacking Alexenko and was eventually jailed. Although the experience was traumatic for her, she said sharing her story helps her reach out to other victims.
“Part of the reason I talk about being a survivor of sexual assault is the hope that other individuals will come forward and know that it’s OK, it’s nothing to be ashamed about, and it’s certainly not their fault,” Alexenko said.
The National Institute of Justice reported that 6 percent of rapists will spend time in jail for their crimes. The FBI reports that the current arrest rate for rapes is 24 percent, the lowest number in more than 40 years.
Alexenko said rapists are often not arrested for their actions because DNA evidence collected in rape kits, the physical evidence collected from a woman’s body at a hospital after an assault, is not transferred into the Combined DNA Index System, a databank of genetic information.
She said the average price to analyze a rape kit through CODIS is between $800 and $1,200, which often prevents them from being processed and used as evidence in cases.
Lisa Freil, former Chief of the NYC Sex Crimes Unit, also spoke at the event discussing the frustrations felt by sexual assault victims whose attackers are not convicted because evidence is not processed.
Freil said the current procedure to have a rape kit processed prevents a victim from paying the department to have the kit analyzed.
“You can’t do it because it’s police department evidence of the victim and they won’t let somebody just have the one kit tested, and that is an incredibly frustrating thing for victims to learn about what’s going on with their kits and find out theirs is one that is sitting on a shelf,” Freil said.
Alexenko echoed the former chief’s words.
“It’s either sitting at a police station, perhaps it’s still at the hospital, or it could be in a bag and hasn’t gone through the process of extracting that DNA evidence which can later lead to a conviction,” Alexenko said. “Instead it’s just collecting dust.”
According to data collected by Natasha’s Justice Project from 2009, New York City police had no rape kits backlogged while departments in other cities such as Chicago had 11,000.
Sophomore Gabrielle Coleman said she was surprised to hear that New York City had no backlog because she believes the city is stereotyped as a high-crime area.
“For that city to be at zero and everyone else to have high backlog, it should be more of a motivation to get the backlog fixed,” Coleman said.
In March, New York legislators passed the All-Crimes Act, which requires anyone convicted of a felony or penal law misdemeanor to provide a DNA sample to the state’s DNA databank, which is then uploaded to CODIS. Since the law was enacted, Alexenko said the arrest rate for rape in New York City has jumped to 70 percent.
Alexenko said the key to making a difference in changing how the government handles policies on rape kit backlogging.
“The most important thing to realize is that behind every rape kit and DNA test is a human being, and with every result it can bring closure and justice to the victim,” she said.