After decades sitting on shelves in evidence rooms across Philadelphia, 1,574 rape kits that accumulated from investigations stretching back to the 1980s have been tested for the first time, city law enforcement officials said Thursday.
DNA evidence and other information gleaned from those invaluable pieces of rape investigations are expected to lead to dozens of new charges in long-unsolved "stranger rapes," District Attorney Larry Krasner said.
Clearing out the backlog also promises to increase the speed and success of new investigations, Krasner said, because the Philadelphia police department's lab has significantly reduced the amount of time it takes to analyze new kits for DNA evidence.
"What we are talking about here are stranger rapes, previously unsolved," Krasner told reporters. "We're going back a long way and going back a long way talking to people who were terribly damaged a long time ago."
An arrest in at least one previously unsolved rape case, from 1999, has already come from clearing out the backlog, he said.
The goal of Philadelphia law enforcement agencies now is to analyze rape kits within 90 days of the crime, Krasner said. Currently, the police crime lab gets to every kit within 120 days, which the district attorney described as "real progress" from the last few decades when the backlog emerged.
Dozens of new leads have been developed in previous rape investigations going back years because of the clearance of the backlog, officials said.
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"The rape kit backlog demonstrated to some that sexual violence was not an important issue in this city. And not we know that's not true," said Dr. Monique Howard, executive director of Women Organized Against Rape. "This is a pivotal moment in WOAR's mission of eliminating sexual violence as well as the reduction of rape culture."
Assistant District Attorney Branwen McNabb, who supervises the office's Family Violence and Sexual Assault Unit, said tireless work by scientists, police, prosecutors and advocates will provide "closure and justice for victims of sexual violence."