In the latest development in the nationwide backlog of sexual assault test kits, law enforcement officials in Austin, Texas recently discovered that 849 rape kits had been infested with mold. Assistant Police Chief Troy Gay reported in a memo that the mold had been found on the outside of hundreds of kits in April by a private company recently hired to help the Texas city make its way through thousands of untested rape kits.
Preliminary analysis suggests that the mold will not effect testing the samples for DNA. "We have no information at this time that this mold has impacted any of these kits," said Interim Chief Brian Manley, Austin Police Department, according to Fox Austin.
In 2011, Texas passed a law, state Sen. Wendy Davis, that required law enforcement officials to conduct a one-time audit of its sexual assault kit backlog. It revealed that almost 20,000 rape kits were untested, as of mid-2012. Texas's Department of Public Safety has not updated its rape kit figures since then, and there remain as many as 3,500 of those 20,000 kits that have not been tested, according to the Texas Tribune.
Recently, the state has turned to crowdfunding to support the cost of testing rape kits. In April 2017, Texas lawmakers passed new legislation that allows residents who apply or renew their driver's license the chance to donate $1 to fund the testing. State Representative Victoria Neave, the Democrat from Dallas who sponsored the crowdfunding bill, testing rape kits can cost between $500 and $2,000. Neave's law is expected to generate about $1 million a year.
A backlog of untested rape kits is not particular to the state of Texas, however. Nationwide there are at least 175,000 untested sexual assault kits, according to analysis by the advocacy group Joyful Heart Foundation. And that data is based on the reporting of only 38 states — so there very well could be more. The Foundation also runs the website End the Backlog, according to which more than 20 states have passed legislation requiring officials to conduct audits of untested kits in the past two years.
In fact, according to the Joyful Heart Foundation, Texas has enacted some of the most comprehensive rape kit analysis laws. With the passage of a legislation in June requiring public safety officials to create a system monitoring the rape kits from collection through analysis, Texas became the first state to enact all of the foundation's comprehensive reform proposals. Joyful Heart — an organization that seeks to end sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse — issued a statement after the bill was passed:
As for Austin's untested rape kits, it remains unclear when the backlogged kits, which are mostly from the 1990s and early 2000s, will be processed. Nonetheless, it seems that none of the kits stored in that refrigerator, prior to the discovery of mold, have been contaminated.
"I think what's really important to note, and what hasn't been put out yet, is we have sent well over 1,000 kits from this refrigerator out for processing," the APD's Interim Chief Manley to Fox Austin. "They have been processed and we have had no reports of mold in all of those kits.