Swabs for wiping the lips, face, thighs, vagina and anus. A comb to collect fibers and hair. A pick for scraping debris from under fingernails. A blood sampling device and microscope slides. Baggies for underwear. Documentation forms and labels.
These are just some of the items in the standard sexual assault evidence collection kit, or rape kit, used by American hospitals and police departments. Sexual assault turns the victim’s body into a crime scene and the process of evidence gathering—prodding, swabbing and questioning—can take hours. Victims who subject themselves to this ordeal do so in the hope of justice and the hope that the perpetrator will be stopped from hurting anyone else. But over the last 30 years as many as 400,000 rape kits have piled up, untested, in back rooms and storage lockers across the country. Stacked together they would fill a warehouse the size of a football field and three stories tall.