More than 300 untested rape kits across state, auditor general says
Next month will mark 10 years since Samantha Fullam, a York County rape survivor, heard anything about her case. She never received results from her rape exam.
"I often say the worst thing that happened to me was not being raped but what happened after being raped," Fullam said Thursday, April 11, as she publicly shared her story during a state auditor general news conference.
Fullam is not alone. Across the state, 339 rape kits sit in crime labs and police stations. It's a 90% reduction in backlogged tests since 2016 when Auditor General Eugene DePasquale reported at least 3,217 untested kits.
“I am pleased by the tremendous progress our crime labs have made, but we cannot rest until the backlog is eliminated and every victim has received justice," DePasquale said.
As of Dec. 31, the Pennsylvania State Police and Philadelphia Police Department report that they had no backlogged kits.The Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner, which contains the county's forensic crime lab, reports having 94. Local law enforcement agencies had 245 backlogged kits, according to DePasquale's announcement.
The announcement does not break down the backlogged kits by county, and the auditor general's office referred The York Dispatch to the Pennsylvania Department of Health for localized numbers. Based on the department's report as of Dec. 31, 2017, York City Police had 10 backlogged tests. Other York County departments did not have untested kits, according to the report.
The Department of Health will release the updated annual report in April.
Testing kits helps provide victims with answers, DePasquale said. It also helps connect crimes committed by serial offenders across the nation and helps prevent future crimes, he said.
"Victims will tell you the pain lasts a lifetime. Getting these kits tested matters, and matters a lot," he said.
'Invasive and shameful': Each untested rape kit is more than a statistic, it represents some of the most traumatizing experiences for women across the state. Fullam, a survivor who was gang raped at 15, said many people don't understand the "drawn out, invasive and shameful" exam process.
"I was put through further trauma immediately following the worst night of my life for absolutely no reason," she said.
Survivors, still in shock of the rape they just experienced, have their mouths and genitals swabbed. Pubic hair is plucked, fingernails are scraped and photographs are taken of the victim's entire body, Fullam explained.
"I was then questioned about my rape. I was asked things like 'Why didn't you scream louder?' Or, 'What did you have to drink?'" she said.
"I was 15, and there was four of them," Fullam said.
The system continues to fail rape victims in a "massive way," by not even testing kits, she said.
"For these exams to never be looked at and continue sitting on shelves is unthinkable. Our society places so much of your worth on the results of these test," Fullam said.
To help curb the backlogging of kits, DePasquale is encouraging the state to adopt a tracking mechanism that allows victims to keep tabs on their evidence as it moves through the system, he said.
DePasquele said Pennsylvania should consider implementing a kit-tracking system created by the Idaho State Police forensic team and available at no cost.
— Rebecca Klar can be reached at email@example.com or via Twitter @RebeccaKlar_.