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Breaking down the backlog|Part 5

Georgia’s rape kit laws

  • 2 min to read

The file lay untouched.

Faith knew sooner or later she would need to open it, but she needed a little more time. Within that file folder were the details of the most traumatic moment of her life.

After being interviewed for this series, Faith gathered her strength and requested a copy of her file from the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia. She wanted to find out what happened to her rape kit from an assault that happened eight years ago.

The incident took place in late 2011, back when there was no legislation mandating that law enforcement must submit rape kits to the GBI. In fact, if Faith’s rape had occurred in 2010, she might not have gotten an exam at all.

Improved legislation

In the past, law enforcement decided whether a victim’s rape or assault would receive a forensic exam in the first place. Money was a big factor because the agencies paid for the kit assets, said Kim Davis, executive director of the Sexual Assault Center of Northwest Georgia.

“There wasn’t anything we could do about it,” says Davis. “We couldn’t afford to do the exams because we didn’t have enough money to pay for the equipment.”

Rape kits are expensive. It costs crisis centers or law enforcement agencies upwards of $1,000 for rape kit materials, not including medication to help prevent STDs or pregnancies from rape. Now, crisis centers such as the SAC can bill Georgia’s Crime Victims Compensation Program for much of the cost.

It also costs between $1,000 and $1,500 for crime labs to test the kits, and that money comes from state funds. So full servicing of one rape kit can amount to $2,500 or more.

In 2011, Georgia’s law changed so that anyone who claimed to have been assaulted had the right to a rape kit exam. But though an exam was done, if the victim didn’t officially report the crime to law enforcement, there was no guarantee the kit would be sent to the GBI. The SAC would keep the kit for a year and then destroy it.

Thanks to a 2016 law, now all kits are required to go to the crime lab. But for those who survived an assault prior to that year, this can be devastating news.

“It makes me angry,” says Faith. “When I think of (law enforcement or crisis centers) having to destroy kits during that time period, that’s immensely hurtful.”

The burden of uncertainty

After a lot of self-preparation and some conversations with her therapist, Faith opened her file.

The file contains an outline of a body as well as diagrams of specific body parts. Areas of the body are circled and numbered where Faith’s rapist injured her, forcing her into submission for intercourse. There were 11 visible injuries on Faith’s body, a non-visible injury on the back of her head and three external injuries on her genitalia.

“Seeing everything in the file was validating,” she says. “It wasn’t like I laid down and someone had sex with me. It was very violent. I had been told by people for so long that I blew it out of proportion, but I wasn’t taken seriously. The reaction I had was justified and appropriate.”

There was also a police detective’s signature depicting that the rape kit was released to and picked up by the agency that worked Faith’s case. But it’s unclear whether or not her kit was actually sent to the GBI or what ended up happening to the evidence.

Faith knows that police officers never arrested her rapist, so whether they didn’t find enough crime-scene or circumstantial evidence is something to speculate. As with most rapes, there was no third witness during the assault. Without an arrest, Faith’s legal case against her attacker died almost as fast as it had been formed.

After her experience, Faith says sexual assault needs to be taken more seriously.

“Sexual assault needs to be a full scale investigation,” she says. “I understand it can be hard with DNA and lack of witnesses, but when someone has bruises all over their body and they’re bleeding from the vagina, and you still don’t make an arrest? It blows my mind.”

For anyone in the NWGA region who is struggling with assault, abuse and its associated effects please contact the Sexual Assault Center of NWGA www.sacnwga.org or find your nearest crisis center https://centers.rainn.org/.

Part 6 of this series focuses on a victim’s healing journey. Look for Part 6 in Tuesday’s print and online edition of the Rome News-Tribune.