Justice On Hold: GBI works to test thousands of backlogged rape kits for victims

GBI works on thousands of backlogged rape kits / Tavares Jones (WGXA)

ATLANTA -- The Georgia Bureau of Investigation (GBI) is making progress on its backlog of thousands of sexual assault kits. However, for many victims, the process of waiting is a sense of justice delayed.

The GBI had more than 5,000 kits backlogged for as long as 10 years.

A state law passed in 2016 now requires kits waiting to be tested to be turned over to the GBI crime lab for processing. GBI began processing roughly 3,000 kits last summer.

GBI Spokesperson Nelly Miles said the agency has even began outsourcing the kits to outside labs.

"Since that particular point, we've been working on a series of plans to try to work those kits and bring that number down. One of the big projects that the crime lab has been working on has been the outsourcing project, and so they've been outsourcing for almost a year now, a number of kits each month to a private vendor," said Miles.

To date, they've tested over 1,800 kits and from those they've received 120 hits on the national C.O.D.I.S ( Combined DNA Index System) database, meaning they've identified 120 suspects in those cases.

Stephanie Fowler, the C.O.D.I.S administrator for GBI said the backlog is also a national issue.

"We knew it was just a matter of time before Georgia would need to find a way to tackle this issue. To get all of these sexual assault kits worked, we had to have a plan in place, that involved not only increasing our staffing, not just here at our headwaters laboratory but at all of the DNA laboratories for the state. And we were also able to retain grant funding so that we could have some of the sexual assault kits worked by a private laboratory," said Fowler.

However beyond the numbers, it's advocates like Dottie Stafford of the Crisis Line & Safe House of Central Georgia who know firsthand the impact that testing could have in a victim's case. Stafford said when she first learned of the massive backlog, it's the victims who came to mind.

"When I first heard about the backlog, I thought about all of the victims who spent three to four hours having forensic evidence collected and to have that not move forward anywhere," said Stafford.

State Representative Scott Holcomb wrote Georgia Senate Bill 304, the law that requires testing of rape kit evidence collected within 30 days. Holcomb said it's important to make sure there's never a backlog again.

"These kits are people, in all too many cases justice has been denied because nothing happened," he said. "It's not enough to just test the kits, we need to then take the information that is found and bring cases."

The GBI said while the need is great, accuracy in the process also plays an important role. Between backlogged cases, right now there are more than 200 rape kits waiting to be tested from cases across Middle Georgia. GBI plans to complete testing on the backlog of kits by June of 2019.

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