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."
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.
According to End the Backlog, an organization that aims to address the backlog crisis, the issue here is twofold. The first problem is, as mentioned, DNA analysis is not often requested. If no request is made to test the rape kit within 10 days of being logged, it is considered backlogged.
The second issue is that labs cannot accommodate the large number of kits that are actually submitted for DNA testing. Backlog occurs when any kit submitted to a lab for DNA testing is untested for 30 days.
And this is largely due to the rate at which rape and sexual assault occurs. End the Backlog points out that in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes.
This means that roughly 720 sexual assaults occur each day. Even though these instances are often underreported because of shaming culture, you can imagine that if even a fraction of those assaults end in rape kit collection, the number of kits obtained each month is immense.
The fact of the matter is that this issue takes root in the social culture surrounding sexual assault and in the fact that there simply are not enough resources allocated to addressing the backlog issue. If there are not enough hands on deck, it's just not humanly possible to take care of so many kits.
The good news is that people are rising up to fight for sexual assault survivors, including 11-year-old Madison Wertz from Williamsport, PA. When she learned about how many cases are left unsolved, she used her voice for survivor advocacy. Learn more about this amazing child in the video below.video-player-present
Everyone who is sexually assaulted deserves justice, but if we don't solve this problem, the backlog will persist and sexual assailants will never be punished. If you want to support Madison as she fights for the cause, you can sign her petition here. To learn more about the rape kit backlog, visit End the Backlog's site today.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, find help by calling 1-800-656-4673.