Rape kits in Colorado are not being tested

The crime of rape is once again in the headlines. This time, however, the definition of rape isn’t being called into question. What is being debated is the need to test rape kits that are being collected in the state of Colorado.

According to a local CALL7 investigation, of the 1,064 rape kits collected by the Denver Police Department since 2008, 44% have not been tested. Of the 243 kits collected in Fort Collins since 2007, 72% have not been tested, and of the 117 rape kits collected in Jefferson County in the last five years, 64% have not been tested (thedenverchannel.com). Many women who are victims of rape subject themselves to the additional trauma of the invasive medical procedures required to complete a rape kit in the hope that the evidence will be used to help prosecute the rapist. To be told by police that the kit will not be tested is to be victimized a second time.

According to Denver Police Commander Ronald Saunier, “A lot of rape kits we end up doing are just to document the trauma and everything else that occurred” (thedenverchannel.com). Why would you subject a woman to the pain and emotional trauma of a rape kit if you were not going to do anything with the evidence of “trauma and everything else that occurred?”  The Denver Police Department has its own lab, which means it has the capability to run DNA testing on all of the rape kits it collects. That DNA evidence could then be entered into CODIS, the national DNA database, so that it could be matched to any future crimes committed. Yet Saunier cannot say how many rape kits have been DNA tested. He did admit that if the crime is considered a date rape or a case of domestic violence where the primary issue is not who committed the crime but whether or not the woman consented, those kits are not tested: “No, we don’t test 100 percent of the cases. Some of those we don’t want to test or don’t need to test” (thedenverchannel.com).

Fort Collins Police Captain Don Vagge agrees with Saunier: “If the issue is consent, finding DNA is not going to help” (thedenverchannel.com). While Vagge seems to be under the impression that DNA collected from date rape and domestic violence cases cannot be entered into CODIS, Colorado Bureau of Investigation spokesperson Susan Medina stated that any rape kit that is sent to CBI is tested, and the suspect’s DNA is entered into the CODIS database: “That person could be connected to other cases” (thedenverchannel.com).  The bottom line here is that potential repeat offenders are not being identified, and victims are once again being denied any form of justice.

This is not a problem that is limited to Colorado. A 2010 CBS News Investigation of 24 cities and states found that more than 20,000 rape kits were never sent to crime labs and an additional 6,000 rape kits from active investigations were waiting months, even years, to be tested (CBS News). When DNA from future crimes could be matched to CODIS in order to identify repeat offenders, what could possibly be the argument against testing these kits? There isn’t enough money? There aren’t enough personnel? It isn’t a priority? Tell that to the victims.

Diane DeBella

As a writer, teacher, and speaker Diane has spent over twenty years examining women’s issues. She is the author of the collective memoir *I Am Subject: Sharing Our Truths to Reclaim Our Selves*, and editor of the anthology *I Am Subject Stories: Women Awakening*. As a long-time faculty member at the University of Colorado, she received the CU Women Who Make a Difference Award and the CU-LEAD Alliance Faculty Appreciation Award. Through her organization I Am Subject, Diane helps us understand how we—as women—are impacted by the society in which we live. By claiming ourselves as subjects of our own lives, we become empowered and also provide strong role models for other women and girls. In healing ourselves we help others—a beautiful way for women to create nurturing, supportive communities.

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