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North Carolina clears rape kit backlog; other states still have 1,000s

Seven years ago, North Carolina had 16,000 untested rape kits. The state says all of those kits have now been tested.
North Carolina clears rape kit backlog; other states still have 1,000s
Posted at 6:08 AM, Apr 11, 2024

The backlog of untested rape kits that once numbered over 16,000 has been cleared, North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein announced this week. 

The kits take DNA from victims of sexual assault and attempt to match it with potential suspects, which can aid in prosecution.

State officials said in 2017 that 16,000 untested kits "sat on the shelves of local law enforcement agencies." However, efforts to clear the backlog after that remained uncoordinated. 

In 2019, there remained about 12,000 untested rape kits. After lawmakers in North Carolina passed House Bill 29 in 2019 to provide officials with resources to test the kits, the backlog slowly dwindled. 

Officials said 5,075 samples have been entered in the national Combined DNA Index System database, and CODIS has matched the samples to 2,702 hits. The attorney general's office said that 2,024 of those samples "had hits to offenders whose DNA is in the database because of previous convictions or arrests."

North Carolina officials said those hits led to 114 arrests. 

"Today is a great day: North Carolina has ended the rape kit backlog. I am incredibly proud of the bipartisan and collaborative effort that produced this achievement – Republican and Democratic legislators, district attorneys, and law enforcement officers all played a critical role in ending the backlog," Stein said. "I also want to thank the scientists at the State Crime Lab who have worked countless hours to get these kits tested. Most importantly, I thank the victims for their bravery in submitting the evidence so we can hold their rapists accountable."

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Advocates say some victims of sexual assault had to wait decades to have their rape kits tested. 

According to the advocacy group Joyful Heart Foundation's End the Backlog campaign, North Carolina will join 19 states that have cleared their backlogs of rape kits. Several states, including California, Texas, Indiana, Oklahoma and Iowa, still have thousands of untested kits, the group says. 

The organization said North Carolina had one of the largest state backlogs it had seen. 

“Every untested rape kit represents a survivor waiting for justice, some for decades,” said Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “Testing each kit has been and will always be the primary goal of End the Backlog. By ending the backlog of rape kits in North Carolina, the state has signaled to every survivor that they matter and what happened to them matters."

While there have been several states that have passed reforms to end the backlog of untested rape kits, Congress has provided funds to support testing efforts through the Debbie Smith Act. In 2019, the act was reauthorized through the end of the 2024 fiscal year. 

The Senate voted in October to reauthorize funding, but the House has yet to take up the measure. Anti-sexual violence organization Rainn has been advocating for Congress to reauthorize the act. 

“The Debbie Smith Act has been the most effective anti-rape legislation that Congress has ever passed,” said Scott Berkowitz, Rainn's founder and president. “It has helped law enforcement test hundreds of thousands of pieces of DNA evidence, identified serial rapists, and helped in the prosecutions of the nation’s most dangerous sexual predators.”

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