Rape kit backlog still a problem in the Coastal Empire - WTOC-TV: Savannah, Beaufort, SC, News, Weather & Sports

Rape kit backlog still a problem in the Coastal Empire

(Source: WTOC) (Source: WTOC)
SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) -

GBI investigators in Savannah are taking us behind the scenes, showing the real reason thousands of rape kits in Georgia remain backlogged after lawmakers passed legislation requiring all kits be processed by the GBI.

While the state has made some progress overall since this legislation was passed, investigators haven't made a dent in the number of cases in our area.

Nearly 300 rape kits from the Coastal Empire still have not been tested.

The Governor is proposing to build a new crime lab by 2019, but GBI officials say that’s only one piece of the puzzle.

They desperately need more efficient space and updated equipment which will be helpful in the long run. Right now they need manpower and the only thing standing in the way is a lack of funding.

"The bill definitely got the ball rolling," said Ross Butler, Lab Manager.

Savannah's GBI Crime lab manager Ross Butler says getting lawmakers to pass legislation requiring all law enforcement agencies to turn over their rape kits to the GBI was actually the easy part. One year later and state investigators have hardly made a dent in getting several thousand kits tested, processed and DNA entered into a national database.

"We have only a limited amount of resources here," said Butler.

The nearly 300 cases that remain untested here in the Coastal Empire are among 4,000 kits across the state that need to be tested. The problem is the state can only afford to send 50 kits at a time.

"I don't think they ever imagined the current backlog would be inclusive of so many kits," said Kesha Gibson-Carter.

Rape Crisis Center Executive Director Kesha Gibson-Carter met with state lawmakers this week about why it's taking so long to get these kits tested, processed and DNA entered into a national database that could potentially link investigators to a possible suspect.

“The general goal is process them in 45 days," said Butler.

Gibson-Carter says out of more than 300 sexual assaults in Savannah and surrounding counties between 2014 and 2016, there have only been 55 arrests and no one has been convicted. Arrests have been made in only 15 percent of the cases, leaving victims without closure or the opportunity for even more.

"When we are apprehending suspects and getting them off of the street when we can, we know we are not only getting justice for that survivor or for that victim, but we are also saving another victim,” said Gibson-Carter.

That's the goal, not the reality and at this rate it may take years. Savannah only has six forensic biologists who can tediously collect, analyze and log the DNA evidence.

"Some of them are rape kits, some of them aren't, some of them have about 4 or 5 samples within one case," said Butler.

Processing rape kits are only a fraction of the overall workload for the GBI.

"We've got them all in the lab, how are we going to efficiently process these kits," said Butler.

Lawmakers are supposed to approve Governor deals recommendation for the new GBI crime lab here in Pooler. But we’re also hearing from sources that additional funding could also come out of this year's session to expedite processing the rape kits.

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