Possibly hundreds of thousands of rape kits remain untested across the U.S., and a number of states are proposing legislation to address backlogs that are years or decades long.
In Memphis, Tennessee, alone, more than 12,000 rape kits going back to the 1980s remain untested, according to the New York-based Rape Kit Action Project, which has been tracking the backlogs nationwide. In Texas, about 16,000 untested kits are collecting dust in police evidence rooms.
Tennessee is among at least 17 states with proposals that range from requiring law enforcement agencies to inventory their rape kits to analyzing them in a certain amount of time. Three states — Colorado, Illinois and Texas — have passed laws that mandate a statewide accounting of untested rape kits.
Rape Project spokeswoman Natasha Alexenko estimates there are about 400,000 untested kits nationwide.
"Until we enact this kind of legislation where we're counting them, we really have no idea," said Alexenko, a rape victim whose rape kit was finally tested after nearly 10 years. Her attacker was arrested after a match was found.
Rape victim Meaghan Ybos has been crusading for legislation to address the backlogs for several years. The 27-year-old was 16 when she was sexually assaulted in her home in 2003. She underwent a forensic rape exam but never heard anything else about her kit.
In 2012, she was watching the news and learned police had arrested a suspected serial rapist in the neighbourhood where she lived.
"I just knew it was the same person," recalled Ybos, who called police, told them about her assault and persuaded them to reopen her case. Her rape kit was eventually examined, and the suspect's DNA and that in her kit matched. The suspect pleaded guilty in her case.
Ybos said it shouldn't have taken her that long to get justice.