North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein called for more funding to process sexual assault testing kits at a joint press conference with Republican state legislators Tuesday.
An audit of sexual assault testing kits by local law enforcement agencies in 2017 found a significant backlog — more than 15,000 kits were untested. In 2019, the bipartisan Survivor Act was signed into law, which mandated that all testing kits be examined.
Kits prior to 2018 have been outsourced to vendor labs. Stein said the first year after the Survivor Act became law, his office witnessed a 125% increase in the number of sexual violence testing kits submitted. Although the state has made “incredible progress,” the work is not nearly done, Stein said. He vowed to eliminate the backlog by 2023. Hence, the new request of a one-time appropriation of $9 million and the addition of 12 scientists — six specializing in DNAs and six in other disciplines — for testing the older kits.
Around half of the 16,190 older kits have been tested, according to a press release from Stein’s office.
Stein said out of the 8,369 kits that his office has commenced work on, about 3,000 have been completed for review and just over 5,000 are still in process. He said about 470 kits have resulted in matches in a national database that can be traced to an individual or suspect in other sexual assault cases.
Accordingly, law enforcement officers made 40 arrests in 68 sexual assault cases in the last year or two, Stein said.
“That means that law enforcement now has an incredibly hot lead to solve a cold, case some of which had been unsolved for 20 or 30 years,” Stein said.
Stein said 268 law enforcement agencies have either eliminated their backlogs or are working to resolve them.
“The victims are still waiting for us to do our jobs,” said Fayetteville Police Chief Gina Hawkins, calling on the legislature to support more testing. Rep. Jamie Boles, R-Moore, a primary sponsor of the Survivor Act in 2019 said at the conference that seeking justice for sexual violence survivors is a bipartisan effort.
Stein said there are three main reasons for the delay in testing:
- Some law enforcement agencies failed to send the kits to the lab.
- Labs sometimes didn’t have the necessary technology.
- The legislature didn’t fund the testing due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of the scope of the problem before the 2017 audit.
Sen. Warren Daniel, R-Burke, said in the press release: “It should never have gotten to a point where thousands of sexual assault kits were left sitting on shelves untested, but we’ve come together to clear the backlog. I am proud of the work my legislative colleagues and the Department of Justice are doing to right this wrong.”
The state Department of Justice entered a new contract with a lab for testing these kits last July. However, the vendor with the lowest bid charges $1,250 per kit, instead of $700 as under the previous contract, an increase of 75% attributable to heightened demands nationwide, Stein said.