AG Herring says Virginia’s rape kit backlog has been eliminated

Updated: Jul. 8, 2020 at 8:45 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Attorney General Herring says Virginia’s rape kit backlog has been eliminated in a news conference Wednesday morning, making it only the seventh state to do so.

As part of Attorney General Herring’s initiatives, 2,665 previously untested rape kits have been tested, including kits that had gone untested for decades.

The PERK testing initiative, costing $3.4 million, is one part of Attorney General Herring’s larger effort to change the culture around sexual violence in Virginia.

As a result of eliminating Virginia’s untested kit backlog:

  • 2,665 kits were tested
  • 851 DNA profiles have been uploaded into CODIS, the national Combined DNA Index System
  • 354 “hits” have been sent to law enforcement agencies for further investigation
  • At least one charge after identification through the PERK backlog project, with more anticipated as localities, continue to reopen and investigate cases

“Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits has been completely eliminated, and it is never coming back,” Attorney General Herring said. “Eliminating this backlog has been a long time coming, and it has taken a lot of work, but it means a wrong has been righted, that justice is closer for more survivors and that Virginia is a safer place.”

As part of this process, Attorney General Herring, DFS, and a steering committee of law enforcement, prosecutors, healthcare providers, and victim advocates created and executed a plan to safely transport thousands of untested kits to a private lab for testing in a way that preserved the integrity of the evidence for use in future criminal cases.

“Each of these kits represented a survivors trauma, each of these held evidence that could have brought a perpetrator to justice, but they were put aside and never dealt,” said Herring. “For many survivors, the fact that their kit was never tested denied them a sense of security and justice that is critical to healing.”

Once testing was completed, developed DNA profiles were sent to DFS for review, and eligible profiles were uploaded into CODIS, and DFS reported any hits back to local agencies for further investigation.

This process remains ongoing as agencies re-review cases in light of this new DNA evidence.

Clearing of the backlog brings a sense of justice and relief for survivors like Debbie Smith.

“Virginia has worked so hard to correct a wrong, that wrong of leaving those kits on shelves,” said Smith. “I walked into that room and I saw it filled row after row of shelves from ceiling to floor with those rape kits, it broke my heart.”

Smith survived a violent sexual assault in 1989 in Williamsburg. She was kidnapped from her home while her husband, a police officer, was sleeping upstairs. Smith was dragged into the woods behind her home and raped. Six and half years after her attack, the perpetrator was identified through DNA.

“It was the first time I took a deliberate breath. I wanted to live again,” said Smith.

After her trial, Smith remembers seeing a rape kit backlog for the first time. She soon became an advocate for others, founding Hope Exists After Rape Trauma.

Smith’s experience inspired the federal Debbie Smith Act. It first passed in 2004, to provide funding for testing and training to eliminate backlogs.

”Thank you for stepping up for victims, giving victims a voice, giving them hope,” she said.

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