Houston Council Tackles Decades-Long Problem Of Untested Rape Kits

In the cold-storage room, there are approximately 2,700 untested sexual assault kits. The room is kept at 0 degrees. [Photo credit: Sarah Tucker]
The City of Houston will pay $4.4 million to test all of the city's back log of rape kits. Thousands of untested kits will be completed by the end of the year.

It's a decades-long problem that finally has a solution.

Houston Councilmembers unanimously approved a $4.4 million contract to pay two labs to go through more than 6,000 untested rape kits.

Councilmember Ellen Cohen says this action is long overdue.

"We have an opportunity now to bring closure, in some ways, to victim survivors and, again, to some who may be incarcerated incorrectly. To do it expeditiously and to be fiscally responsible in doing it."

The $4.4 million contract is about a third of the price the city would have paid to test the kits in Houston's crime lab. Mayor Annise Parker says she's glad the testing is finally going to happen, but says it was wrong that it took so long.

"This is just something that needed to be done. It didn't happen overnight. It happened over decades. And successive mayors, certainly the last two mayors knew about it, and were unable to address it. I'm happy that I was able to come up with a plan to move it forward and I'm happy to have the unanimous support of council to do that, but I don't take any particular pride in the fact that it took us so long to get here."

The two labs will triage the cases and prioritize which ones to test first. Active cases will take top priority, followed by cases in which no suspect has been identified.

Still, city officials don't expect much in the way of results from the rape kits.

"We will not be contacting any of the women whose kits we have unless there is some reopening of the case. What we have seen around the country, less than one percent of these kind of mass testings result in any further action on the part of law enforcement."

The untested kits should be completed in 12-14 months.

The City of Houston collects about 1,000 new sexual assault kits a year. Going forward, those new kits will be tested at the Houston Forensic Science Center.

Bio photo of Laurie Johnson

Laurie Johnson

Local Host, All Things Considered

Laurie Johnson is the Houston host for All Things Considered at KUHF NPR for Houston. Before taking the anchor chair, she worked as a general assignments reporter at KUHF, starting there as an intern in 2002...