Georgia lawmakers are working to end the state’s rape kit backlog.
State Representantive Scott Holcomb sponsored a bill several sessions ago to get rid of the state’s decades long backlog.
Of the 3,000 rape kits submitted, 321 matched with offenders already in the system.
The backlog is finally cleared he bill built in measures, like a mandatory 72 hour window to pick up the kits, to make sure this doesn’t happen again.
“The victim wants to continue their life and don’t want to relive this 20 years later. This is why it’s so important. Why we never get into a situation again where we have rape kits warehoused,” says Vernon Keenan, former GBI Director.
Now though, for the victims whose kits were literally collecting dust for years, if not decades — how do they move forward and get justice?
A bill. A CODIS hit. A rape kit. A back log. Lots of lingo with lives behind it.
“It’s a kit, it’s a number. These are people whose lives were impacted by this and may not even know that their kit wasn’t tested initially,” says Theresa Schiefer, Cobb County ADA.
“They’re young, they’re old, parents, not parents, grandparents, employed, not employed, students…” says Hannah Quackenbush with Georgia Sexual Assault Kit Initiative/Life Safe Resources.
And they’re all over the state of Georgia.
“There were kits from every county in the state. Now some may have only had 1 or 2 but those are 1 or 2 lives affected. It’s not a metro area issue.”
Now with those rape kits coming off the shelves, these victims, most women, have to choose if they want to reopen the emotions they’ve shelved for 5, 10, 25 years.
“It’s all about putting the control back in the hands of the victim,” says Schiefer.
“In that moment, you can see the realization on their faces. Where they’re like ‘oh I know what you’re talking about.’ And sometimes they’ll say ‘yes I’ll talk to you but let’s step outside. My child is inside,” says Quackenbush.
Many of the women, not knowing that their kits sat untested. One a child, only 16 at the time of her assault, now a mother with children of her own.
“She never knew that her kit wasn’t tested, she just thought no one believed her,” says Schiefer.
Then, a difficult process for the victims and prosecutors in the courtroom: using old evidence on modern day juries who expect evidence like you see on CSI.
“What jurors want and what we have to put together when it comes to cold cases is just one more element,” says Schiefer.
“It’s terrifying. It’s a very intimidating process that requires a lot of inner strength to go through in the shoes of someone walking up to a courtroom ever,” says Quackenbush.
Many of the offenders in these cases assaulted others after they got away with it.
“Sexual assault and having these kits tested is a public safety issue, it’s not a women’s issue or a victim issue, it’s a public safety issue,” says Schiefer.
And an issue of giving these women a say.
“They are some of the strongest women I’ve ever met, to not only survive their sexual assault but to survive the backlog, and in my opinion you’re a survivor of both, both are pretty traumatic experiences,” says Quackenbush.
Something future victims shouldn’t have to endure because of Holcomb’s push to the end backlog.
To check if a kit was part of the backlog, click HERE.