Rape kits: The system failed 1,700 women

Published 5:04 am Friday, November 22, 2019

The Free Press, Mankato

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

A legal maxim of centuries standing holds that “justice delayed is justice denied.” In the realm of sexual assault, Minneapolis is now just the most recent American jurisdiction to deny justice though investigatory inaction.

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Last week’s revelation that some 1,700 rape kits in Minnesota’s largest city sat in storage, ignored for up to a decade, is unfortunately far from unique. Indeed, compared to New York City (17,000 lost rape kits), Houston (6,000), Detroit, Los Angeles and Memphis (more than 11,000 apiece), Minneapolis is a relative piker at the art of ignoring sexual assault evidence.

It’s still unacceptable. We’re not foolish enough to believe that the fornesic tests for which the contents of rape kits are gathered will automatically result in conviction or even charges. But the bottom line is that 1,700 women were put through the invasive process of gathering the evidence, and then the system did nothing.

Seventeen hundred women in Minneapolis, therefore, know from personal experience that reporting a sexual assault is useless. Unacceptable is too mild a word.

If this kind of investigatory failure were unique to one or two major jurisdictions, one could chalk it up to isolated incompetence. When it occurs in major jurisdictions all over the country, it has to be something else, something embedded in the culture of policing. The art of “sharing best practices” seems to have reversed itself in this area. Again, unacceptable.

Even if the discovery of the lost rape kits leads to tests and breakthroughs — the city says the kits were properly stored, and Hennepin County has already offered resources to expedite testing — the delay is likely in many cases to be problematic.

A woman who reported an assault eight years ago isn’t living in suspended animation. For better or worse, she has had to live with the trauma and try to get past it — and now there is the very real possibility that she’ll have to deal with the experience all over. Many, perhaps most, won’t want to deal with it again, and who can blame them?

Justice delayed. Justice denied.