Sarah Tofte, researcher at Human Rights Watch's US Program, is an expert on sexual violence, DNA evidence and sentencing, and other aspects of US criminal justice policy. She has most recently aided in exposing the backlog of rape kits in Los Angeles, and is advocating for the elimination of backlogs nationally. Here is an excerpt from her article published in the LA Times in June 2008:
According to the Justice Department's most recent National Crime Victimization Survey, only about 40% of sexual assaults are reported to police, though other nongovernmental studies indicate even lower rates of 10% to 20%. But among those who do report a rape, most are taken to a hospital to have a rape kit created. In this age of "CSI" and other forensic science TV series, rape victims believe that DNA and other evidence in their rape kits will help police and prosecutors find and punish their assailants. If only that were more true.
The National Institute of Justice estimates that at least 400,000 rape kits are sitting untested in police stations and crime labs across the country. In the city of Los Angeles alone, more than 7,000 sit in refrigerated storage in a city warehouse facility and a trailer behind police headquarters.
In this interview, Sarah examines the problem of rape kit backlogs and points out to several aspects of a comprehensive plan to bring justice to rape survivors.
Interview conducted by Emma Jackson
Research by Eva Hoier Greene