Whenever someone reveals their sexual assault story, often months or years after the fact, the first question is inevitably, “Why didn’t you tell someone?”
And the answer is a multifaceted one. For one, sexual assault survivors are often shamed and blamed for what happened to them. Society has created an air of shame around rape and sexual assault that often keeps victims in hiding, compounding the trauma of assault with the humiliation of public backlash.
The second is that fittingly serious sentences are virtually nonexistent, as evidenced by the now infamous Brock Turner case. The legal and justice systems systemically fail victims. Perhaps most telling of all, however, is the massive amount of rape kits sitting in backlog in the United States.
Mariska Hargitay, an advocate for sexual assault survivors both on and off screen, once said, “To me, the backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters.”
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And when the scene of the crime is someone’s body, the sensitivity with which evidence is treated should mirror the delicacy of the situation.
Sadly, that’s just not the case. The truth is that right this second, tens of thousands of rape kits are sitting in evidence lockers. Prioritization of rape cases is often so low that law enforcement and prosecutors rarely request DNA tests to match rape kit samples.