BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WIAT) — Rape kit backlogs are a nationwide issue, and Jefferson County is no exception according to the District Attorney’s Office. At one point, the backlog in the county reached 3,800 untested rape kits — all of which are related to cold cases. In that backlog are kits that date all the way back to 1985.
For some victims, that’s over 30 years without closure.
“Every one of those kits is a person and it’s a person’s story. It’s their evidence,” says Jessica Stott, the Assistant SANE Coordinator at the Crisis Center located in Birmingham. “And so the fact that someone along the way decided we’re not going to move forward with this, it’s very heartbreaking.”
But progress is finally starting to be made as the Jefferson County District Attorney’s Office tells CBS 42 that 200 of those 3,800 kits have been sent off for analysis.
“Right now we have been working through the backlog so that we give every person’s experience the time that it deserves,” says Aryn Gieger-Sedgwick, the Program Director for the Sexual Assault Kit Iniative which is based out of the District Attorney’s Office.
Gieger-Sedgwick tells CBS 42 that this backlog compounded over decades. But now, thanks to a three year grant, officials finally have the resources to start chipping away. To avoid overwhelming testing centers, which also must handle the influx of new cases, only 25 kits can be submitted for analysis each month. With only three years of guaranteed resources from the grant, prioritizing cases is a must.
“It’s really just a way to focus to make sure that as we’re sending these 25 kits a month, that the ones that are most likely to give us investigative leads are on the front-end,” says Gieger-Sedgwick.
Geiger-Sedgwick explains that this is not meant to suggest one case is more important than other. Rather, with only 25 kits being tested a month, they want to help get as many perpertrators off the streets as possible.
With 200 kits now submitted, and some results coming back with DNA matches, Stott says the progress means a world of difference.
“When we get reports back from the [District Attorney’s] Office that there have been results on these kits, it’s sort of like a renewed hope,” says Stott.
Stott says that when they process new patients, an Officer come sby their office that same day and takes the kit directly to a lab for testing. This measure is meant to ensure that new cases are handled expediently and do not add to the backlog while also giving officials the opportunity to work through some of the older cases.