Editorial: Rape kit match starts road to justice

September 30, 2018

A rape kit is more than just a box of tubes and swabs and paperwork and numbers and data and information.

A rape kit is a box of horror and hope.

It is filled with the evidence of one of the worst things that can happen to a person -- a violence against body and soul.

It is filled with the strength it took to tell someone what happened, and tell someone else, and then, while still terrified and hurt, open yourself to being scraped and probed and photographed for that evidence.

It is filled with the desire for justice.

That is what makes it tragic that 1,200 or so of those kits have grown dusty on shelves in evidence rooms around Pennsylvania. In February, officials said more than 200 Allegheny County rape kits had not been tested.

But one of those long-ago reported crimes, long-ago collected boxes could help find justice soon.

One kit found a match that resulted in an arrest last week. Shawn Carr, 33, of Elizabeth is charged with the rape of a hearing-impaired woman. But police found that he matched another kit, a kit that has languished without a lead for more than 11 years.

The hope of finding a match was nearly lost. The statute of limitations lapses at 12 years, so if the box sat there another year, it wouldn’t matter if a match was ever found.

The case isn’t over. That’s not what this is. This is the start of a search for justice, but matching the kit let the pieces on the board make their first moves. It lets the process begin. But there are still far too many kits sitting in the dark, waiting for their day in court.

Auditor General Eugene DePasquale has called the backlog “beyond unconscionable.” He’s not wrong. Gov. Tom Wolf has said he was prioritizing the processing. That’s good.

But there is one more piece that can help link suspects to crimes. That’s more people coming forward.

Just like the floodgates of reporting have helped bring the Pennsylvania priest assaults to light, more reports could help put more rapists behind bars. It might seem counterproductive when so many tests wait there turn for testing, but a hit from this test matching a hit from that test, just like with the Carr case, could help reconstruct a crime that has been long forgotten by almost everyone but the person who reported it.

Good for the officials and the cops, the labs and the lawyers. Good for everyone who took their turn moving a 2007 case through the system to finally see an arrest. But the person most responsible for seeing that happen is another woman who wouldn’t stay quiet about what happened to her.

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