Asheville Police Dept. submits hundreds of backlogged rape kits for testing

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The Asheville Police Department is making headway in battling a backlog of hundreds of untested sexual assault kits, submitting more than 400, which leaves less than five percent remaining to be tested. 

“We need to fix this,” said Lt. Sean Aardema with the Asheville Police Department. “We need to address it. These are real people. These are real cases.”

The effort began with a state law that passed in 2017 that required every law enforcement agency in the state to take inventory of their untested kids. In total, more than 15,000 kits were counted. 

In the Fall of 2019, N.C. Attorney General Josh Stein obtained a federal grant to test backlogged rape kits. 

When Asheville Police began taking stock of the hundreds of untested sexual assault kits on their shelves a few years ago, they decided to do more than just count and categorize them, as the law required. 

“We recognized the need…not only do we need to just do the bare minimum, but we need to take it a step further,” Aardema said.

They started re-examining each case to determine which ones should be tested first. Some of the cases are more than 20 years old, according to Aardema.  

“There has been in some cases, a considerable period of time that they’ve received no justice,” he said.

He said kits were shelved for a variety of reasons. In some cases, for example, suspects were convicted without using DNA. In other cases, victims wanted to remain anonymous, which would have made prosecution difficult. 

“It is what it is,” Aardema said. “Let’s fix it because it’s the right thing to do.”

After combing through the cases again, investigators were ready to send off 406 kits for testing once funding became available. Aardema said they’ve gotten more than 10 DNA matches, but they still have to be confirmed. 

“It’s one of those kind of bittersweet things,” he said. “It feels like a real accomplishment that we’ve gotten that far, but we still have a ways to go.”

In the meatime, the fight to get more kits tested continues at the state capitol. The “Standing Up for Rape Victims Acts of 2019” have passed first readings in the state House and Senate. It would give millions of dollar for rape kit testing. 

“We just have to do it,” said N.C. state Rep. John Ager, who is co-sponsor of the bill. “There’s all kinds of people out there that need to know the answers to these questions.”

The bill would also require law enforcement to pick up rape kits within seven days starting later in 2019. 

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