SAN DIEGO (NEWS 8/CNS) – Hundreds of rape kits are undergoing testing, but a backlog of hundreds more remains. The San Diego County Interim District Attorney addressed the issue during a Tuesday morning news conference.
Initial results are expected in the next few days on previously untested rape evidence kits that will help identify offenders who may potentially be linked to other sexual assaults, San Diego County District Attorney Summer Stephan announced Tuesday.
Law enforcement leaders stood with Interim District Attorney Summer Stephan as she explained that it’s been her top priority to have the rape kits tested.
Earlier this year, the District Attorney's Office, working with the San Diego County Sheriff's Department, contracted with a private lab, Bode Cellmark Forensics in Lorton, Virginia, to test about 1,000 untested sexual assault kits. So far, 350 rape kits have been sent to the lab for testing, Stephan said.
"I was robbed, raped, carjacked, left for dead," said Sharon Prince who was attacked in 1997 as she was leaving work.
For five years, her case remained unsolved - until her rape kit was finally tested.
"This person was caught because of a rape kit processed," said Prince. "I was finally able to find justice. I was finally able to start to heal and feel safe again."
The man convicted in Prince's case was linked to two other assaults and sentenced to 106 years.
DA Summer Stephan says her office is committed to bringing that same justice to other rape victims.
"By having these rape kits tested and in the data bank, it allows us to link and allow past victims to support new victims, so we can bring these perpetrators to justice," said Stephan.
The county's top prosecutor said reducing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits has been a top priority of hers since she took office last July.
With the support of San Diego County's chief administrative officer, officials identified about $1 million to go toward the effort of expedited testing, Stephan said.
"Protecting victims of sexual assault and leveraging every tool to bring their abusers to justice has been my mission for over a decade. About 80 percent of rapes are committed by someone in the victim's circle and it's likely the perpetrator will continue to commit sexual assaults," she said.
"Having personally prosecuted rape cases that left victims with deep emotional and physical wounds and having seen how much bringing their perpetrators to justice matters, I'm committed to doing everything we can to solve their cases,' Stephan said. "That's why I've prioritized the testing of rape kits, including those committed by known perpetrators, and worked so hard to identify funding and get the process moving as quickly as possible. The kits may contain powerful evidence that can speak on behalf of victims and prevent a future assault."
The backlog that exists in San Diego is a common issue nationwide due to a lack of resources.
Locally, the sheriff's department has 400 untested kits.
The remaining 600 are from eight other police agencies in the region - excluding San Diego police.
"Each one of those boxes represents a person, represents a human, a sexual assault survivor who is waiting for justice," said Ilse Knecht of the Joyful Heart Foundation.
The organization is designed to ensure that one day all of the country's 225,000 untested kits get cleared from the shelves they've been collecting dust on.
It's a challenge both Knecht and the DA's office are up for - especially when you consider the victims they represent.
"In my mind, there's no excuse that all rape kits should not be processed," said Knecht. "There are people crying out for justice that need to be released from this fear."
While the San Diego Police Department is not part of this new plan, Stephan did acknowledge they are making strides in testing their kits using their own lab.
They would not provide News 8 with a number, but some reports suggest SDPD has at least 2,000 untested rape kits on its shelves.
Also announced during the news conference held during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, additional kits will be sent to a private DNA lab and contact information was given so victims can receive an update on the status of their kit. A phone number and email address were provided: 858-514-4661 | firstname.lastname@example.org.