It took several years, but Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine says the the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) has finished analyzing nearly 14,000 rape kits that had languished untested on the shelves of law encorfement agencies throughout the state.
"It's imporant to stress that these are more than just boxes of evidence," said DeWine, at a news conference at a BCI forensics lab in Richfield on Friday. "When you look at them each one represents a person, each one represents a victim."
DeWine said 294 police agencies from 75 Ohio counties submitted backlogged kits. Cleveland's Dvision of Police submitted the most—around 4,400, according to DeWine. He also gave estimates for the number of rape kits submitted by police departments in Akron (1,400), Columbus (500), and Cincinnati (300).
Of the kits that came from the Cleveland, about 40 percent revealed a DNA match for a suspect identified in a previous case or by another rape kit. In Cuyahoga County, the evidence has resulted in almost 660 new indictments.
Sondra Miller, president and CEO of the Cleveland Rape Crisis Center (CRCC), said the tests have given survivors "an inkling of hope that they could find justice."
However, she added, "We cannot stop here, because the journey for survivors doesn't end when the evidence has been tested."
There are still thousands of rape kits collected before 1993 that remain untested, said Miller. And those survivors who want to know the results of their kit deserve to be notified and have their cases fully investigated by police, she said.
The effort to clear the backlog began in 2011, following an investigation by The Plain Dealer, which found that thousands of rape kits had been sitting on police department shelves for years, and in many cases, even decades. A major part of the problem, DeWine said, was that "every department did what it wanted to do, there was no uniformity," he said. "Nor was there a consensus for when a sexual assault kit should be tested."
On that score, Ohio has made some progress: in 2015, the state legislature passed a law requiring that police departments submit rape kits for testing within 30 days of determining a crime may have been committed. However, a recent report by The Plain Dealer showed that Cleveland police failed to comply with that law.
That such a lapse was allowed to continue unnoticed for years is one reason why survivor advocates, like Miller, are calling for the state to institute more transparency and accountability measures when it comes to the processing of rape kits.
The past several years have revealed many lessons about what law enforcement agencies can do better, said CRCC's Miller. But the key lesson, she said, is that "it is never too late to tell a survivor, 'We believe you,' and 'You don't deserve what happened to you.'"