CBS 17 INVESTIGATION: NC rape survivor questions new law on rape kit backlog, funding

North Carolina

Change is coming to the way our state processes rape kits after lawmakers voted in favor of funding a rape kit tracking system.

CBS 17 investigative reporter Felicia Bolton discovered some survivors say your tax dollars are going to the wrong place. Katherine Meininger is one of those rape survivors.

“Horrible. I was trying to go back to school then. The day that I was raped I had gone and registered for classes for that semester. I left from campus and that’s when the incident happened,” said Meininger.

Meininger said someone she thought was her friend sexually assaulted her in December 2011.

“I didn’t go back to school because of where it was…there was a lot of DNA evidence — saliva , semen. They were able to take pictures. It was kinda humiliating, but I’m glad we had it documented of tearing in the skin,” she said.

Despite the evidence, it took 3 1/2 years for the state to test her sexual assault kit, which delayed the trial.

“I felt it was almost intentional, like maybe they are making this so long to see if I will just give up and walk away from this,” Meininger said.

Meininger is not alone. A recent statewide audit shows more than 15,000 untested rape kits are still sitting on shelves at police precincts across North Carolina.

State Crime Lab director John Byrd says his lab cleared its backlog in the early 2000s and now they’re trying to help local police do the same.

In order to fix the problem, he says it all comes down to funding.

“With the numbers that we’re already seeing that are ready to test right now, we know that we don’t have enough funding,” Byrd said.

They’re not going to get more money anytime soon. State lawmakers voted down Attorney General Josh Stein’s request for $2 million, which would have been used to test just 2,800 of the 15,000 backlogged kits.

Instead, lawmakers passed House Bill 945, which requires the attorney general’s office to develop a plan to test the kits and create a sexual assault evidence collection kit tracking system that will go into effect Oct. 1.

Meininger believes the tracking system isn’t the answer.

“Hire people to test them. It shouldn’t take this long. Three and a half years is way too long,” Meininger said.

Republican Rep. Ted Davis sponsored the bill.

“You can imagine if it’s going to take $2 million to test 2,800 and there estimate to be 15,000…you’re talking about a huge expense. So we want to make sure that the kits that are being tested are tests that can be used,” said Davis. “What if someone’s pled guilty to the offense, do you need to test the rape kit? Let’s say a defendant has died and can’t be prosecuted, do you need to test the rape kit?”

CBS 17 asked Davis why the state should provide funding to track the kits instead of testing them.  

He replied that he and the committee felt that before they use money to test these rape kits, they need to have an organized plan in place.

“Not only with the backlog, but in the future when these rape kits are done, Somebody has a record that they’re done and where they’re at so that we can make sure that they are tested,” he said.
But for now, thousands of untested kits are waiting to be processed. Each one represents a victim hoping justice will be served.
“Think about the members of your family. How long would you want them to wait for justice and try to put yourself in a survivors position and think how long would I want to wait,” said Meininger.

The Department of Public Safety is currently drafting a plan to test those 15,000 kits. They have until Dec. 1 to sumbit their recommendations to the General Assembly.

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