Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Ohio attorney general, Richard Cordray, pushes statewide discussion about testing rape kits

by Rachel Dissell in the Plain Dealer on Monday, August 23rd

Wading into a national debate, Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray is calling for a statewide conversation among lawmakers, law enforcement and victim advocates about the testing of rape evidence kits.

On one side are those who want all kits submitted to a lab for examination, reasoning that by collecting more DNA profiles, authorities will find links to serial rapists and solve more cases.

Others say mass testing is a waste of money and the movement to do so masks the fact that most sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows -- not strangers whose identities are in question.

The kits contain evidence collected at hospitals after a sexual assault is reported. Blood, semen, saliva, hair or other evidence can be used to identify or exclude a suspect as an attacker.
Testing policies are inconsistent in Ohio and throughout the country. Here, each law-enforcement entity decides how, and whether, to test rape kits.

While state-run labs in Ohio prefer that cases be vetted for possible useful evidence before the kits are submitted, they won't turn away evidence. And some Ohio cities and counties have locally funded labs that make their own policy or charge by submission.

"It's a patchwork quilt," Cordray said in a phone interview last week. "It would make sense to have some kind of universal protocol or best practice."

Cordray began to explore the issue after Cleveland Police Chief Michael McGrath decided to submit all rape kits to state labs for testing this year, a move prompted by questions about how many untested kits the city had sitting on property-room shelves -- and whether testing that evidence could have solved more cases.

Cleveland's shift in philosophy to test all kits is similar to a new law signed in Illinois in July that made it the first state to require that every properly collected sexual-assault evidence kit booked into police evidence be tested within six months.

Scrutiny of the process in Illinois was stirred in part after Human Rights Watch, an independent advocacy group, started gathering data last year that eventually revealed that 80 percent of kits collected in that state since 1995 had never been tested. The group's report was part of a series that looked at rape-kit testing and backlogs across the country.

News of the Illinois law re-ignited the national debate among victim advocates, law enforcement and researchers about what makes the most sense: Testing all rape kits submitted to police or only the ones that are needed to investigate and prosecute open cases.

Those in favor of mass testing, including some criminologists, argue that studies show sexual assault to be a pattern offense -- meaning most attackers don't attack only one victim. They believe if more DNA profiles are collected, more crimes are likely to be linked to serial rapists.

Anecdotally, that has been reported across the country as more DNA has been loaded into national databases.

click here for the entire article and to leave comments

No comments:

Post a Comment