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Houston Police Win Grant to Help Test Rape Kits

HOUSTON --

 

Facing a mounting backlog of untested rape kits, the Houston Police Department has been given a monetary lifeline from the National Institute of Justice.

 

The Institute has awarded Houston $176,000 as part of a two-phase project aimed at helping clear away a mounting backlog in the Houston Police Department's troubled crime lab. Last January, Local 2 Investigates exposed how the HPD has approximately 4,000 untested rape kits stored in evidence. The oldest kit listed in department records as being untested is from a sexual assault case in 1986.

In addition to the untested kits, Local 2 also reported the department has more than 11,000 other rape kits with scant information as to what's inside. During an interview with crime lab director Irma Rios last January, she said she believed those more than 11,000 kits have been tested because the kits are stored "at room temperature." However, when pressed, Rios said the department has no idea how many of those kits contain evidence and how many do not. Rios blamed the problem on antiquated databases.

The grant money is expected to help the department tackle both of these problems.

"For those who are trying to move forward, there is a sense that justice is not served," said Sonia Corrales, a program director with the Houston Area Women's Center.

Corrales said not testing a rape kit can deepen the trauma a rape survivor experiences.

"The fear of retaliation is very, very big with sexual assault survivors. 'Is the person going to come back and do something to me again?'" said Corrales.

The first phase of this grant will entail the HPD taking an inventory of all rape kits stored in evidence and then developing a strategy for testing. The second phase will see the implementation of that strategy, as well as the effect on rape survivors.

"We don't know if they're happy about that. We don't how they're going to react," said Corrales, speaking about rape survivors who psychology may have come to terms with the attack and who may not want to go through the hardship of a trial years after they were victimized. "That's something we need to find out."

The only other area awarded this grant is Wayne County, Mich., where Detroit is located.

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