Manhattan DA rape kits, spurring over 1,000 arrests.

Languishing evidence in over 100,000 sexual assault cases around the country has been sent for DNA testing with money from a New York prosecutor and federal authorities, spurring over 1,000 arrests and hundreds of convictions in three years, officials say.

It’s estimated that another 155,000 or more sex assault evidence kits still await testing, and thousands of results have yet to be linked to suspects. Many who have been identified can’t be prosecuted because of legal time limits and other factors.

Still, the effort is a significant start at correcting “an absolute travesty of justice,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said Tuesday while releasing results of his $38 million investment in testing – all outside his own turf.

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“That backlog not only undermined justice and perception, and reality, of equality – it also made every woman and every American less safe,” he said.

Law enforcement and lawmakers have faced growing calls in recent years to eliminate what’s known as the rape kit backlog – swabs and samples collected in sex assault cases but never tested for DNA. Victims’ advocates see the untested kits as signs that sexual assaults weren’t taken seriously enough.

Vance, who took office after New York City cleared its own testing backlog, and the Department of Justice have worked in tandem since 2015 to help other places tackle theirs.

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The two agencies have paid to send years-old kits to labs from dozens of states and communities, ranging from Flint, Michigan, to Mobile, Alabama, to Las Vegas.

One of those kits sat untested for 15 years in Tracy Rios’ case, even though she’d given police the name of the then-friend she accused of luring her into a vacant apartment and sexually assaulting her in 2002 in Tempe, Arizona. Police said they couldn’t charge him based on her word, and then she underwent a rape kit exam, but the investigation soon stalled, she said.

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“I lost faith in the system. I thought they didn’t care,” she said Tuesday. (A message was left for Tempe police about the case.)

Two years ago, she suddenly got some news: Her rape kit had finally been tested, with money from the Manhattan DA’s office, and police were pursuing her case anew.

“It was amazing to know I was going to get justice,” said Rios, whose attacker is now serving a seven-year sentence for sexual assault.

The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted unless they agree to be identified, as Rios did.


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