After she was allegedly raped at knifepoint on September 1, 1993, a 23-year-old Ohio woman, "S.W.", did all the things sexual assault victims are supposed to do. She reported the rape and her alleged attacker, Demetrius Jones, to the local Cleveland police, detailing how she screamed for help, how she fought, how her attacker's brother and mother were in the same apartment when he vaginally raped her but never came to her aid. She also went to the hospital for a full rape kit, where medical staff took vaginal swabs, collected pubic hair, fingernail scrapings, a saliva sample, a nasal mucous sample, and a DNA standard.
But after the local sex crimes police attempted twice to contact S.W. following the incident and were unsuccessful, the investigation was dropped. And her rape kit sat, untested, for nearly two decades.
That is, until Ohio began its extensive initiative to begin testing its more than 10,000 backlog of rape kits, and Jones' DNA was discovered in S.W.'s rape kit. However, the Ohio 8th District Court of Appeals ruled that the delay in prosecution was unjust to Jones.
In January, The Joyful Heart Foundation joined with Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN), Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence, and the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence to file an amicus brief, outlining how detrimental this decision could be for other cases with backlogged rape kits, both in Ohio and nationwide.
Currently, Ohio's rape kit initiative is one of the most aggressive and extensive in the country. Ohio expects thousands of rape kits to be tested under this initiative, which would mean that thousands of victims could finally have their day in court. "If left to stand, the Court of Appeals decision would undermine this highly successful initiative," said Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation. As Knecht explains, the initiative behind the rapekit backlog extends much further than allocating time and resources to pulling the untested rape kits off the shelf.
Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter.
"Ending the backlog requires engagement at all levels," Knecht said. "Jurisdiction must: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities; create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog; and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system."
If this decision is upheld, victims whose rape kits were never tested, who were failed once by the criminal justice system, may be failed again. "When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice and healing for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the innocent," said Knecht, highlighting the importance of a more effective criminal justice system for everyone. "Mandating the swift testing of every sexual assault kit sends a powerful message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes."