Apr 9, 2024 - News

North Carolina clears decades-long rape kit backlog, AG Josh Stein says

Illustration of the North Carolina Legislative Building with lines radiating from it.

Illustration: Brendan Lynch/Axios

North Carolina's backlog of untested sexual assault kits, once the largest in the country, has been cleared, the state's Attorney General Josh Stein announced Tuesday.

Why it matters: For decades, around 16,000 untested sexual assault kits — which can provide evidence for making arrests — sat on shelves at hundreds of local crime facilities across the state, keeping potentially important evidence from being documented.

The big picture: Now, after years of efforts to reduce the number of untested kits, the evidence from them has been tested and is being used to turn cold cases into active investigations again, Stein told Axios.

What happened: In 2017, the state and the U.S. Department of Justice started working to determine just how many untested sexual assault kits existed in North Carolina.

  • By 2019, the DOJ's inventory found more than 16,000 untested kits after requiring every local agency, like towns and college campuses, to physically count kits in their collection rooms.
  • In response, a bipartisan group of lawmakers and the attorney general's office passed legislation that provided a new process for submitting kits to labs as well as money to clear all of the untested kits and renovate the state crime lab.
  • The legislation requires that any time a hospital produces a sexual assault kit, it must be sent to law enforcement within 48 hours, and then to a testing lab within 45 days.

By the numbers: Of North Carolina's thousands of untested kits, the state determined 11,841 met the requirements to be tested for evidence.

  • Of those kits, a little more than 5,000 had sufficient levels of DNA to be entered into a computer database of convicted offenders.
  • Around 2,700 of those samples matched someone's DNA in the database.
  • Thanks to those matches, 114 arrests have been made so far.

What they're saying: "None of us wanted to shy away from an ugly reality," Stein told Axios of the state's efforts to clear the backlog.

  • "There were 16,000 of these kits and each one of those 16,000 kits came from 16,000 people," he added. "Each person deserves our level best efforts to get them justice."

What's next: Since the bipartisan legislation was passed, the number of sexual assault kits submitted to labs in North Carolina has increased significantly from around 600 annually to 2,200, said Stein, a Democrat who is running for governor.

  • Stein said the state will need to keep monitoring kit clearance rates to avoid another backlog from cropping up.

You can find more information on resources for sexual assault victims on the NCDOJ website.

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