Current Issues

Ending Sexual Assault Kit Backlogs

As part of the effort to improve the criminal justice and community response to sexual assault and abuse, DNA evidence from Sexual Assault Kits (SAKS), also known as rape kits, can be a critical tool. These kits are valuable evidence for solving and prosecuting sexual assault cases.

SAKs contain DNA evidence from the victim which police can use to match against known offenders and suspects. Many times, testing the SAK leads to an arrest. Thus, quick collection and testing of SAKs is critically important to serve justice for victims of sexual assault and to protect the community. However, there is a significant backlog of SAKs that remain untested in states across the country.

State attorneys general can provide leadership to address the backlog, ensure speedy testing of new SAKs, and prosecute perpetrators. North Carolina AG Josh Stein’s work in North Carolina to pass the Survivor Act and secure additional funding is a great example of how state attorneys general can advocate for the resources needed to address historic sexual assault kit backlogs. Virginia AG Mark Herring announced in July 2020 the Commonwealth cleared the state’s backlog reinforcing the important role of the state Office of Attorney General in seeking justice for survivors and families.

Attorneys general can start by creating a task force within their office to determine the backlog and identify resources and potential actions for their specific state. Based on recommendations of the task force, the attorney general should use their authority and influence to coordinate the state-wide inventory, testing, and best practices for handling SAKs. Additionally, state attorneys general should advocate for comprehensive reform legislation to ensure the best practices advocated by End the Backlog. Finally, state attorneys general should seek funding through both legislation and federal grants.