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CMPD officials should be held accountable for destroying rape kits 

Testing our patience

Trigger Warning. I hate those words and I hate that sometimes they're necessary for me.

It took me a week of willful avoidance before I read the Stanford survivor's letter. I didn't want to, because I already had a great idea of what it said. I'd written one like it when I was 18 years old. Only it never made it to a judge.

Brock Turner's six month jail sentence, recently handed down as a result of him being caught in the act sexually assaulting the Stanford survivor near a frat house in January of last year, was a surprise to me, but not because it was so light. I was surprised he received any jail time at all. The man who attacked me didn't. Few rapists do. Most rapes still go unreported and of those that do, only about one out of four lead to an arrest. Only about one of four arrests leads to a felony conviction and incarceration, according to a 2012 analysis of Justice Department date.

The man who attacked me was offered a plea bargain by then-District Attorney Peter Gilchrist. He pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge and was not made to register as a sex offender.

The lack of justice wasn't even the second-worst part of the ordeal. That involved going to the police and allowing them to collect evidence. The day following my attack consisted of repeating every single awful detail of the night before, reliving the entire scene in my mind as I spoke. Laying naked on a table for hours while strangers took photos of my genital area. Feeling an array of unfamiliar hands and cold objects prodding parts that already felt violated and indiscriminate handling of a speculum causing pain to an area already traumatized. Worrying with every swab and comb-through that they may not find anything to make them believe my story was true. Tears streaming down my face as the nurses repeatedly assured me that it was almost over. It's never been over.

Last weekend, a Charlotte Observer investigation found that more than 1,000 sexual assault kits like the one that was collected in my case had been destroyed by CMPD without ever being tested. Some of those cases involved children. That's about one in every three sexual assault kits the department had collected since 2000. Over 1,000 women and girls — and in some cases men and boys — went through the trauma of this collection procedure for no reason.

Among these were 72 cases that were still listed as open, a direct violation of a law passed by the General Assembly in 2009 requiring the retention of untested kits in open cases.

Endthebacklog.org states there are hundreds of thousands of kits across the country waiting to be tested. Due in part to that organization's push, police departments nationwide have recently made testing unanalyzed kits a priority. Detroit linked crimes to 188 serial rapists from testing just 18 percent of its backlogged kits. When New York City tested its backlog, its arrest rate for rape jumped from 40 percent to 70 percent.

In Cuyahoga County Ohio, a task force was assembled to study patterns arising from its backlog testing. In the first 243 kits it studied, it found that 51 percent were tied to serial offenders.

If that statistic held true for Charlotte, there could be hundreds of serial rapists that escaped identification when the kits were destroyed. They're walking the streets while politicians falsely warn that transgender women in the bathroom are the threat.

Asking women and girls to submit to this invasive and demoralizing procedure, then destroying the kits before even bothering to test them, is inexcusable. Their consent to that procedure was predicated on the condition that it would be tested and used to convict. Destroying untested kits is worse than incompetence, it sends the message that rape doesn't matter and that justice is not a high priority.

In response to the Observer investigation, CMPD said most of the kits destroyed were from cases that lacked enough evidence to make an arrest. They may have found more evidence if, say, they tested evidence kits. If it was determined through statements that there wasn't enough of a case to prosecute, thus making kit testing an extraneous step in the process, then why even collect the kit?

As of the time of this writing, Charlotte survivors have yet to receive an apology and, in reality, an apology isn't good enough. Anyone who had any role in the destruction of these kits should resign, publicly and immediately. You are not fit to retain your job.

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