Attorney General announces Survivor Act; $6 million to combat rape test kit backlog
RALEIGH, NC (WECT) - Attorney General Josh Stein said in a press conference Tuesday afternoon there is an average of three rapes a day, often 20 a week in North Carolina.
Many sexual assaults go unsolved, representing one of the biggest threats to public safety.
“Last year we found 15,000 untested rape kits were sitting on shelves across our state," said Stein. “Each one of those represents a personal tragedy and each victim deserves justice.”
After hearing about the magnitude and the scope of the problem, Stein asked the legislature for help to test old kits which could solve cold cases, punish offenders and prevent future assaults.
“Today I am announcing the Survivor Act. This will ensure we test old kits and make sure to never find ourselves with this large backlog ever again,” Stein said.
Stein, joined by bill sponsors Sen. Warren Daniel and Reps. Jamie Boles, Carson Smith (former Pender County sheriff), Mary Belk, and Billy Richardson, unveiled the legislative proposal. The legislation also provides $6 million in funding over the next two years to address the backlog.
“It currently costs $700 to test one sexual assault kit," Stein said. "Testing 15,000 will mean a meaningful commitment and a priority, I hope, from the General Assembly.”
Stein said Tuesday around 1,000 backlogged rape kits have been tested, which leaves 14,000 untested.
In 2018, state investigators learned there were more than 15,000 rape kits that had never been tested. This failure to test rape kits, in some cases, allowed sexual predators to remain free.
A rape that happened in Fayetteville in 1987 did not get solved until Monday. The Fayetteville police chief said special funding made it possible for investigators to test the rape kit, which led to the arrest of a 52-year-old man.
“To the rapists in North Carolina, no matter how long ago your crime was, we are coming for you," Stein said. "This new act will put survivors first, and (hold) rapists accountable.”
The new act requires law enforcement agencies to submit kits for testing within 45 days of the kits' collection.
“Time is of the essence in testing these kits because each investigative and (combined DNA index system) hit lead has the potential to remove a dangerous offender from the streets,” said Smithy.
The legislation also provides funding for the state crime lab to hire new forensic scientists. Stein said doing so will ensure there are enough scientists on staff to address new kits submitted for testing.
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