ABC15: Valley police ignore evidence in thousands of rape cases - East Valley Tribune: Public Safety

ABC15: Valley police ignore evidence in thousands of rape cases

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Posted: Sunday, November 11, 2012 11:30 am | Updated: 11:07 am, Thu Nov 15, 2012.

Stacked in police warehouses across the Valley, there are thousands of rape cases with DNA samples that have never been tested, an ABC15 Investigation found.

Experts said it’s critical evidence that is being ignored by law enforcement, leaving suspected rapists on the street and victims without answers.

"I think you’re looking at a jurisdiction that’s not responding effectively to sexual assault," said Sarah Tofte, a national advocate with the Joyful Heart Foundation who studies how police handle rape case evidence.

The ABC15 Investigators spent four months researching this story, sending out dozens of public records requests and reviewing hundreds of pages of documents, police reports and court records.

The TV station will air a series of special investigations starting Monday this week.

The reports will specifically focus on whether or not police have tested evidence in what’s called a "sexual assault evidence kit."

When victims report rapes or sexual assaults, they are given an exam and swabbed all over their body to collect a suspect’s DNA left by semen, saliva or other bodily fluids.

The DNA evidence collected is stored in those kits, which are kept in freezers at Valley police storage facilities.

ABC15 has discovered there are thousands of sexual assault kits that have never been tested, including at least 800 kits at East Valley departments.

"An untested kit, for us, is about lost justice for rape victims," Tofte said.

DNA that is gathered and stored in sexual assault evidence kits can be entered into state and federal databases and matched directly to DNA profiles of convicted offenders and arrestees, including suspects of other rapes.

So if a kit isn’t tested, police lose the chance to connect that DNA to other attacks, someone who’s already been arrested or someone who will be arrested in the future.

In their series of reports, ABC15 will:

• Confront top law enforcement officials with the numbers.

• Share emotional stories from victims and their families about their fight for justice.

• Reveal the number of untested kits for each law enforcement agency, including East Valley departments.

• Show how a serial rapist could have been stopped earlier if DNA evidence had been tested.

The stories are being reported by ABC15 Investigator Dave Biscobing and produced by Lauren Gilger.

The first airs Monday night at 10 p.m. on ABC15 (KNXV-TV).

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