Sexual assault crimes have long been a serious problem in the United States. While the number of rapes that are committed has been declining in recent years, as have other forms of violent crime, the United States still frequently finds itself among nations with the highest number of confirmed rapes in the world. In addition, conviction rates are often shockingly low, in part because most rapes have no independent witnesses. Unlike some crimes that happen in broad daylight, and often in view of security cameras, rapes usually occur behind closed doors and no one can verify the claims of either party.
That’s why attaining physical evidence is so important, and why victims need to see a doctor as soon as they can after a rape has happened. If a medical professional doesn’t put a rape kit together, there may be no real evidence that anything occurred.
So imagine how you would feel if you or someone you loved was assaulted, and you followed all of the proper channels to seek justice. You filed a report with the police, and you let a doctor collect evidence for a rape kit. But as time went by, you never heard anything from the police department. Weeks, months, and maybe even years had passed without the perpetrator seeing the inside of a courtroom, much less an interrogation room.
Then imagine how it would feel if you learned that your rape kit, the only piece of evidence that could prove that you were the victim of a crime, had been destroyed by the police. Well that’s exactly what happened in North Carolina, where Harold Medlock, Chief of Police for the Fayetville Police Department, has made a stunning admission. Between 1995 and 2008, 333 of their rape kits were destroyed to make more space in their evidence room, of which, 167 were for unsolved crimes.
In February, the Fayetteville Police Department’s Special Victims Unit commander began a review of old sex assault cases going back to the 1990s to determine if there was a need for a cold case sex assault unit.
In June, it was determined that for some closed out cases the sexual assault kits were disposed of while for other cases the sexual assault kits were retained in the evidence room.
The bulk of evidence, 143 kits, were destroyed in 2006 and most of those involved in the destruction of the kits have since retired, according to Medlock who took over the department in 2013. Medlock said he believed their reasoning was tied to processing.
“I think they decided that if there was no suspect, the state lab would not test, then there was no reason to keep the kit,” he said.
Prior to 2009, it was not a felony offense to get rid of this evidence and the statute of limitations on kits involved in guilty plea cases was three years.
While no laws were broken, Medlock called the destruction poor procedure and said his department takes full responsibility for ridding storage of the kits. He said the department is committed to making sure it doesn’t happen again.
“I think it makes all of us angry,” said Medlock. “We also look back and think ‘How could we have done something like that as an organization?’ But not to minimize that, I’ve looked back several times over my career and wondered how we as a police profession did this, and at one time, we thought it was an accepted practice.”
Even when these kits aren’t destroyed, many of them sit around for years without being tested. It’s been estimated that there is a massive backlog of about 400,000 rape kits in this country, though the true number may be higher since many police departments don’t keep track of this statistic. If we don’t want our country to have a reputation for maintaining one of the highest sexual assault rates in the Western world, then sorting through that backlog should be our highest priority.
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Contributed by Joshua Krause of The Daily Sheeple.
Joshua Krause is a reporter, writer and researcher at The Daily Sheeple. He was born and raised in the Bay Area and is a freelance writer and author. You can follow Joshua’s reports at Facebook or on his personal Twitter. Joshua’s website is Strange Danger .