In this episode of Law & Order: SVU, which is entitled “Behave,” Detective Olivia Benson attempts to reach out to a victim of an apparent rape, who keeps herself barred inside her home only daring to come out once every so often as her job requires. Benson convinces the victim to consent to a rape kit, a medical examination on the victim to collect samples that may contain the perpetrator’s DNA. As the story unfolds, one of the main focal points in the episode is in regards to the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the country.
Mariska Hargitay, who plays SVU‘s Detective Benson, is just as much an advocate for victims of sexual abuse in real life as her character on television. Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation works with victims of sexual assault and is seeking to end the rape kit backlog trend in the country. The numbers are quite alarming as an estimated 180,000 rape kits are left untouched in various warehouses across the nation. Some cities are worse off than others in keeping up with completing rape kit test results. Los Angeles has struggled to complete rape kit tests but recent legislation has diminished the number of untested rape kits. However, cities like Dallas continue to struggle with their tests, citing an overburdened department with a lack of funds for the delay in rape kit testing.
A backlog of rape kits poses an issue in many regards. For a traumatized rape victim, consenting to a rape kit is usually an emotionally difficult and trying decision and they have every right not to allow it. A backlog may discourage these victims from submitting to an examination. Results obtained with a rape kit can be effective in identifying a perpetrator, corroborating the victim’s account of rape or exonerating an innocent suspect in a case. Every time a rape kit is turned down, our system of upholding justice is challenged with a significant disadvantage. In addition, knowledge that our nation’s government and law enforcement are lax with rape kit testing may further encourage assailants to rape without much concern over its repercussions. Currently in the U.S., someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes, which is an astounding number and in every way unacceptable.
Rape kit test results are essential in today’s system of justice to prosecute rapists and put them behind bars. Our nation as a whole necessitates a change in attitude towards victims of sexual violence and laws need to be strictly enforced that will require timely rape kit testing to diminish the number of latent rape kits down to nothing.
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