Vice President Biden made a stop in Maryland this week, where he took a tour of the state’s Police Forensic Science Laboratory and spoke to press about the Obama administration’s initiative to direct $41 million of the federal spending budget toward clearing the country’s rape kit backlog this year. He called the estimated 400,000 kits an “absolute priority,” and went on to say that by testing these kits, “more crimes could be solved, more crimes could be prevented, and more women could be given their lives back.” How this money will be used is twofold: Half of it will go toward reducing the staggering number of untested rape kits currently collecting dust, while the remaining funds will be used to support investigations, prosecutions, and services for survivors, like counseling, legal specialists, and cold-case detectives. But, is it enough? The average cost of processing a rape kit ranges from $1,000 to $1,5000; multiply that by 400,000, and the country would need to spend more than half a billion dollars to bring the total estimated number of untested kits to zero — and that figure still doesn’t cover the manpower required to investigate and prosecute cases, let alone leave funds for survivor resources.
Cities like Detroit are already coming up against this issue: Though Wayne County has slashed its backlog significantly over the last several years, it lacks the funds to process all of its untested kits. For survivors, that means that the trauma of an attack, followed by the collection of evidence for the rape kit itself, followed by years of waiting, could potentially add up to nothing: no suspect sought out or apprehended; no criminal behind bars, and no justice. Biden acknowledged this federal funding is just a first step toward catching up to the backlog. It will take much more than $41 million to clear out old cases and stay on top of the new ones that occur every two minutes in America. Of course, the cost of letting rapists roam free would be far greater.