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Breaking the Backlog: How North Carolina is Confronting Its Rape Kit Crisis

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In a remarkable shift towards justice, North Carolina has made significant progress in addressing the backlog of untested rape kits. A 2018 audit by the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed a staggering 16,219 untested kits in local law enforcement agencies, with 11,775 deemed testable. Fast forward nearly five years and the state reports that approximately 95% of these kits have now been tested, thanks to increased prioritization and grant funding. This monumental effort not only brings hope to victims seeking justice but also strengthens community safety and faith in the legal system.

The impact of this initiative is profound, with the testing of these kits leading to 4,906 new profiles entered into DNA databases and resulting in 174 arrests for crimes spanning decades. Notable arrests in Raleigh include Erwin King and Tracy Lamont Thompson, charged with serious sexual offenses dating back to the late ’90s. These breakthroughs in cold cases underscore the importance of forensic science in solving crimes and delivering long-awaited justice to survivors.

Despite this progress, challenges remain, particularly in supporting survivors beyond the courtroom. The Orange County Rape Crisis Center’s executive director highlights the critical need for more funding for healing centers, which face financial constraints. While the testing of rape kits marks a step in the right direction, the lack of resources for victims and the difficulty in retaining law enforcement personnel point to broader systemic issues needing attention.

Attorney General Josh Stein has championed efforts to eliminate the backlog, with the State Crime Lab enhancing its procedures and expanding its team. This includes a significant federal grant awarded to Durham for prosecuting cases arising from tested kits, reflecting a comprehensive approach to addressing both past oversights and future needs.

As North Carolina continues to tackle the remnants of this crisis, the lessons learned, and the strides made offer a blueprint for other states grappling with similar backlogs. The journey towards restoring faith in the justice system and ensuring survivor support is ongoing, but North Carolina’s actions demonstrate a committed step forward in acknowledging and addressing the needs of sexual assault survivors.