The trauma of surviving a rape or sexual assault is immense and often stifling—even before adding the burden of secrecy and knowing that the perpetrator will most likely go unpunished. For far too many rape survivors, secrecy, shame, and a distinct lack of justice are all part of the trauma they often experience, due to the high prevalence of rapes that go unreported in the U.S.
For every 1,000 rapes, 994 perpetrators will walk free. Only 310 will be reported to the police, 5 reports will lead to arrests, 11 cases will get referred to prosecutors, 7 cases will lead to felony conviction, and 6 rapists will be incarcerated, according to estimates from RAINN (https://www.rainn.org/statistics/criminal-justice-system).
Few rapists are ultimately incarcerated, and the reasoning for the lack of convictions is tangled and traumatic. Many rape survivors, for instance, choose not to press charges or report. A host of systemic problems and blind spots in our public institutions, as well as an all-too-common lack of evidence, also makes it difficult to successfully convict rapists.
The maps below reveals the frequency of rape crimes for every one thousand individuals by state—though is important to note that these figures only take into account reported crimes, not the actual number of rapes that occur in each state.
One factor that can significantly increase the likelihood of a prosecution after a rape is the type of forensic evidence that can be gathered with the help of a rape kit. Rape kits include combs, containers for blood samples, swabs, and other materials that medical personnel use to gather DNA and other physical evidence following an allegation of rape.
RAINN stresses that gathering forensic evidence after a rape not only increases the likelihood of identifying and persecuting a perpetrator, but it also can prevent future sexual assaults from happening. When a perpetrator’s DNA profile is determined using a rape kit and is added to a database, chances of persecuting the offender after he commits another crime dramatically increase.
Unfortunately, this system too often breaks down and valuable evidence remains unanalyzed because hundreds of thousands of kits remain untested, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation. Over 175,000 untested rape kits have been discovered, but the real extent of the problem remains a mystery because few state governments and no federal agencies require that police departments track rape kit evidence. Instead, untested rape kits and their prevalence are made public by nonprofit organizations, journalists, and concerned citizens.
The Accountability Project has discovered nearly 34,000 untested rape kits through such efforts.
The map below shows the number of untested kits in various states—where those numbers are available. In many states, the full quantity of untested rape kits remains unknown.
In recent years, states have taken steps toward testing and documenting the long-ignored forensic evidence connected to alleged sexual assaults in their jurisdictions. Colorado is the only state in which all publicly known previously untested rape kits have been tested.
The past decade has seen new legislative reforms enacted through efforts of non-profit organizations such as the Joyful Heart Foundation. These reforms include: passing state laws mandating tracking systems to follow the paths of rape kit testing; passing laws that institute deadlines for testing all untested rape kits; allocating the necessary funding for these activities; and putting in place laws stating that survivors have the right to information about the status of rape kit testing and the information they contain.
Some states have making more progress than others.
In some states and jurisdictions, rape kits can be destroyed to make space for evidence storage before they are ever tested. Some—but not all—states have evidence retention laws in place, prohibiting the kits’ evidence from being destroyed before the statute of limitations runs out, or while a case is still open, or contingent on the length of incarceration. Many states do not have any laws surrounding evidence retention.
The following map shows which states have evidence retention statutes. Hover over a state with your mouse for details.
In 2013, The Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2013 offered funding via Department of Justice grants to be used by states to train and fund Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE).
Service Training Officers Prosecutors Violence Against Women Formula Grant Program (STOP) is a program designed to help states and local governments develop and strengthen law enforcement and prosecution strategies to combat violent crimes against women and to develop victim services involving crimes against women.
The maps below highlights the number of SANEs trained using the STOP program in each state. The data is from a 2013 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
Registered nurses (RNs) enrolled in Duquesne University’s Online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) program have an opportunity to specialize in forensic nursing and work toward Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) certification through the International Association of Forensic Nurses (IAFN). The MSN program offers a specialization in forensic science, coordinated with the university’s Cyril H. Wecht Institute of Forensic Science and Law. The program melds an MSN curriculum with a focus on investigative techniques, with classes in criminal law, healthcare ethics, and pharmacology.