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Virginia Ends Backlog of Thousands of Untested Rape Kits

Woman speaking at a podium
Debbie Smith, a sexual assault survivor, advocate, and founder of H-E-A-R-T, Inc, speaks at a press conference announcing the elimination of the state's rape kit backlog. (Photo: screenshot of press conference)

Virginia’s backlog of untested rape kits has been completed eliminated. And Attorney General Mark Herring said it’s never coming back.

When Herring took office in 2014, he said he was shocked to learn that there were almost 3000 sexual assault evidence kits in the state that hadn’t been tested. Those kits, which are collected by a forensic nurse in the aftermath of an assault, contain evidence that often helps law enforcement solve criminal cases. The kits had piled up in Virginia, Herring said, in part because they were ignored or not taken seriously.  The cost of performing the exams and testing the evidence was also a hurdle.

“It’s taken a lot of work, but eliminating this backlog means a wrong has been righted, that justice is closer for more survivors and that Virginia is a safer place,” Herring said.

Herring said he believes Virginia is only the seventh state in the nation to completely eliminate its backlog of untested rape kits.

As a result of the initiative, he said 851 new DNA profiles have been uploaded into the national DNA database. And he said hundreds of cases have been sent back to law enforcement for further investigation.

Debbie Smith knows rape kits play an important part in solving cases. Smith was raped during a home invasion in Williamsburg in 1989. The crime went unsolved for more than six years before a DNA analysis of her rape kit helped authorities find her attacker.

“I knew what the testing of my kit gave me. It gave me freedom,” Smith said. "I took a walk in my own neighborhood. I was able to walk around freely without feeling like maybe he was watching me. The fear is gone."

In 2016, then-Governor Terry McCauliffe signed a bill into law that requires rape kits from every reported sexual assault in Virginia to be tested within 60 days.