Rape Kit Backlog Continues To Anger Community Activists
by: Pat Hernandez, July 20, 2011 10:07:00 pm
It's estimated that there are more than 4300 sexual assault kits sitting in the freezer of the HPD property room, waiting to be tested. Some date back to the 90s.
The Greater Houston Coalition for Justice, an extension of 18 civil rights and advocacy groups, met in front of HPD headquarters to say more should be done to clear the backlog.
Yolanda Smith and other activists from the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice
Yolanda Smith is executive director of the NAACP-Houston branch.
"The act of rape itself is violating. But for the fact that the rape kits have not been processed by HPD's crime lab, that further violates the woman."
Coalition member Shelby Stewart says the rights of rape victims are not being respected and that justice has been delayed for long enough in the kits that go untested.
"You have men who have committed felonies that are still walking the streets, who probably are multiple offenders, in cases where DNA has not been tested. How can you respect women if you do not bring down the full measure of the law on the perpetrators of a heinous crime such as that?"
Sylvia Gonzales is with Hispanic Women in Leadership. She's been named to head a steering committee of elected officials, law enforcement and clergy, charged with placing the rape kit backlog on the fast track. Despite that backlog, she commends Irma Rios, director of the HPD crime lab, for the work she's done.
"Her problems are that they don't have sufficient staff, which we all know that. They're working in three shifts, they got ten people hired through that grant money in March, but it's not enough. It's not enough. With that 5-million budget that they have, it's not sufficient."
Last week, crime lab administrators met with city leaders who wanted to know if they could reduce the backlog with more employees. Gonzales says given the city's budget shortfall, pleading with the governor might be the next step.
"We need to do something and start working, ask the governor for funding. You know, he can get some grants. Instead of sending them back to federal like he does, because he feels like Texas can sustain itself, but we can't. We need more funding here. We have priorities here, just like the helicopters were cut off. We need money for the priorities and this is one priority, because it's so backlogged."
HPD officials would not comment on tape on the problem. In a written statement, the department says it has hired 10-contractors, and is working with independent researchers in hopes of creating a practical standard for the handling and testing of rape kits.