Victim`s groups furious after backlogged rape kits damaged - Fox 2 News Headlines

Victim`s groups furious after backlogged rape kits damaged

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CHICAGO (FOX 32 News) -

FOX 32 has uncovered new information about the rape kits discovered last February, gathering dust in a police station in south suburban Robbins. Those kits should have been turned over to the state police crime lab for DNA evidence, but never were.

SEE: 51 untested rape kits found in Robbins spanning 30 years

Now, it appears police allowed some of those rape kits to become water damaged, which means it's unlikely those sexual assault cases will ever be prosecuted.

Law enforcement officials and victim's rights groups are furious and frustrated after valuable DNA evidence has gone to waste. Even though Illinois became the first state in the nation to mandate that rape kits be processed in a timely manner, they say this case demonstrates there are holes in that law.

Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart had hoped for a better outcome when his officers made a stunning discovery last February inside the Robbins police department. 54 sexual assault evidence collection kits stashed haphazardly in a storage locker. The kits contained DNA evidence from sexual assaults going back 15 years, but for some unknown reason had never been sent to the state police crime lab for processing.

This week, it got worse. A letter from the crime lab reporting that the first six kits tested are unusable because of "water damage and potential contamination" that apparently occurred while they were in police custody.

"Because of neglect and not caring, these incredibly significant pieces of evidence cannot be used," Dart explains. "Those cases, barring us being able to get something from a private lab, probably never will be solved now."

"I think that's outrageous," says Sharmili Majmudar, the Executive Director of Rape Victims Advocates. "That is not the way that valuable evidence would or should be treated. With sexual violence, the body is the scene of the crime."

Which means sexual assault victims must undergo a painful and invasive four hour process to collect the evidence that goes into the rape kits, often just hours after they were traumatized by the assault.

"Those survivors went through that entire process only to have their kits wind up being unusable," Majmudar says. "And I can only imagine the betrayal of trust they feel."

In 2010, Illinois became the first state to pass a law mandating that police submit virtually all rape kits to the crime lab for testing, including kits that had been sitting in evidence lockers for years because police had doubts about getting a conviction or victims refused to cooperate.

A list obtained by FOX 32 News shows that after the law went into effect, hundreds of police agencies across the state sent in more than four thousand rape kits to be tested.

"Every kit that gets taken, every time a woman submits to that test, the authorities need to honor that and honor the sacrifice that woman has made in the service of preventing future crimes," says Jobie Cates of Human Rights Watch Illinois, who helped pass that legislation.

But there are problems. 22 percent of the older rape kits tested showed a genetic match in the national DNA database. Those matches are then reported back to the police departments that submitted the kits, but no one is keeping track whether police got a conviction or even pursued the case and with police departments being squeezed financially, Sheriff Dart is concerned many aren't even bothering to chase the new leads.

"So then you're assuming that some of these departments that once they are forced to submit the rape kits are actually gonna do something with the results? Come on, that's naïve," Dart says.

A spokesperson for Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan says they recognize the limitations of the law, and are considering legislation that would provide more accountability and transparency when the rape kits point to a potential suspect.

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