March 6, 2024
flags of countries outside of united nations building in new york city
United Nations Headquarters in New York City

The Rutgers Law School International Human Rights Clinic sent a formal request for an investigation to two United Nations Investigative Bodies: the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls and the Commission Against Torture. The request urges them to investigate the United States’ failure to investigate rape, and to test and process “rape kits.”

There is a rape epidemic in the U.S. Nearly one in every five U.S. women has been raped in her lifetime. Rape kits––forensic exams conducted after a rape to collect DNA evidence from victims’ bodies––are critical tools for investigating and prosecuting rapes. DNA evidence is over 99% reliable in identifying rapists. Because 91 to 95 percent of rapists are serial perpetrators, testing rape kits can help stop serial rapists.

As of 2022, as many as 25,000 rape kits remain untested––they are sitting in police stations, warehouses, and crime labs across the country. Since the Violence Against Women Act was passed in 1994, the federal government has issued billions of dollars in funding to specifically test rape kits, in an effort to eliminate the rape kit backlog. So, the cost of testing rape kits is covered by many federal grants to law enforcement.  Law enforcement spend those funds on other matters, rather than testing rape kits.

“International organizations and the United States recognize failures to investigate sex crimes against women as a form of gender discrimination, and a human rights violation,” said Penny Venetis, Distinguished Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the International Human Rights Clinic. “Law enforcement does not give rape the same attention as it does other violent crimes. Law enforcement also treats rape victims very differently than victims of other violent crimes. It belittles their claims and accuses them of lying.”

International bodies and the U.S. government have criticized law enforcement for failing to test rape kits. In 2011, an investigation by the former Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls noted that U.S. law enforcement are chronically and systematically failing to investigate reports of rape. In 2015 and again in 2022, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) found that there was endemic gender discrimination in the failure of law enforcement to investigate rape and test rape kits. The DOJ stated that law enforcement must, at minimum, “collect and preserve” evidence and ensure “medical exams, including ‘rape kits’ are completed and analyzed in a timely manner.”

Clinic student, Maihan Alam, is excited to be working on this very important project. “Victims who submit to the invasive, traumatizing, and lengthy rape kit exams want their rapists to be prosecuted and want to protect other women. They are often devastated to learn that near–foolproof DNA evidence is purposely never tested.”

Another student working on the project, Samantha Little, believes that “it is critical to draw international attention to the fact that routine criminal investigations are not conducted for rapes. The international community needs to urge the U.S. to comply with international law that requires that rape be taken seriously, and that rape victims be treated with the same respect as victims of other violent crimes.

Click here to read the letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls and the Special Rapporteur on Torture 

Rutgers Law Media Contact:
Shanida Carter

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