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Why Rape Kits Won't Go Untested Any Longer

DNA evidence is often a critical piece in catching and prosecuting rapists. But across the country, that evidence often goes untested. Now, Virginia has taken important steps to make sure that’s not the case in the Commonwealth. 

In the 1980’s, in New York City, Natasha Alexenko was a college student. Walking home one night, she was robbed and raped at gunpoint.

“Even though my first instinct was was to take a hot shower, I instead -- in an effort to aid law enforcement to find the monster, I submitted to a rape kit exam,” says Alexenko.

Doctors collect evidence for a rape kit during a four hour invasive exam. A victim’s body becomes a crime scene, where fibers or DNA provide the clues. In Alexenko’s case, that investigation led to an arrest, 14 years later.

“I just was so very grateful that I had not been forgotten, and I really wanted to help others who perhaps didn’t have the same attention paid to them regarding their rape kit,” says Alexenko.

Across the country, more than 400,000 rape kits go untested, largely because many states don’t have laws dictating a common procedure for how to handle them. But in Virginia, Senator Dick Black, a Republican from Loudon County, reached out to Alexenko to figure out how the General Assembly could help fix the problem.

“When you look at other states across the country, you’ll see that Virginia is a lot further along in the process than many other states across the country," Alexenko says. "I have to say I’m just really impressed.”

Virginia’s new law mandates one of the country’s most progressive statewide procedures for handling rape kits.

It includes notifying the victim of the kit’s status, keeping a kit for a minimum of two years even if the victim chooses not to press charges. And, if a victim does report their assault, the kit must be submitted for testing within 60 days.