Despite grants, rape kit backlog remains steady

Experts are calling it a 'moving target.’ That’s the number of untested rape kits nationwide, and right here in Charlotte.

That number of untested kits in Charlotte fluctuates from year to year; the backlog hasn't gone away despite multiple grants and national attention.

“I just think I could have did more with my life,” a rape victim told FOX 46, “but I've just suffered with this for so long.”

23 years ago, the woman says she was held up at gunpoint and raped outside an apartment complex on Nations Ford Road.

“To find out 23 years later,” she said, “that they just ran my kit made me feel even worse.” She continued, “Like I was a nobody again, like it didn't matter what happened to me.”

LINK: Police: DNA links man to 1995 Charlotte rape case

She, unfortunately was part of the rape kit backlog, and she didn't even know it.

In November, CMPD had 154 untested rape kits waiting DNA testing; it’s since increased significantly. Right now, the number of untested rape kits sits at 211.

“My fear is sometimes that potentially new kits are just getting added to the backlog,” said Ilse Knect, the director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, “but there's also a chance that things are happening a little slower than the department hoped.”

The Joyful Heart Foundation made eliminating the backlog its top priority.

“So [the victims] expect that this will be tested, and so does the public,” Knecht said. “It also means that there could be a very dangerous person that is left on the streets.”

For 23 years, that's exactly what one rape victim was thinking.

“It has affected my life,” she told FOX 46, “and it's affected my life to the extent of relationships, the way I mother, the way I sleep at night and have vivid memories and flashbacks.”

Each rape kit represents a victim who went through a 3-5 hour highly invasive examination at the hospital after getting raped.

Lead forensic nurse at Novant Health, Emily Bellow, has walked 50 patients through that process in the last four years.

“It is not something I’d wish upon my worst enemy,” she said.

Bellow says there are a lot of misconceptions when it comes to submitting the kit.

“It's not a simple, 'let's go to the OBGYN.' it is a very thorough pelvic examination with photography, oftentimes swabbing, sometimes we will do STI testing,” she said.

A forensic nurse will run a black light over the victim's clothing to spot any DNA evidence. Then, the victim will have to stand on a sheet of paper like this for a full head-to-toe exam.
All of that, and still some kits haven't even been tested. So why the backup in clearing the backlog?

“Charlotte has been fairly proactive in addressing the rape kit issue in terms of requesting federal funding to test kits,” Knecht said.

CMPD tells FOX 46, in the past, it would take 200 days on average to test a kit. Now, it takes half that time. North Carolina State Attorney General Josh Stein says that's not good enough.

”I think that first we need to have a requirement for all kits to be tested,” he said. “I've made recommendations to the legislature that we have a tracking system so we know exactly how many kits there are and where they are.”

In October of this year, North Carolina launched its tracking system making the process more transparent for patients hoping one day the wait will be over.

“I just hope it didn't happen to anybody else,” one rape victim said, “I just can't get past that.”