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The Dallas Police Finally Started DNA-Testing Old Rape Kits -- and Now, the Hard Part

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Dallas victims of unsolved sexual crimes just got one step closer to potentially seeing justice their abusers. The Dallas Police Department recently announced it had received a portion of federal and state money to be allotted toward DNA testing for rape kits. The testing began earlier this month, and will target more than 4,000 cases from between 1996 and 2011. The department plans to submit 250 to 300 kits for testing each month.

Only 10 percent of cases will find matches. But Bobbie Villareal, Executive Director of the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center, says that since most rapists are serial offenders, a single identified case could lead to many more matches.

"Detroit was a perfect example of that. They took a small percentage of hits, but they were able to close hundreds of cases through the double-digit hits that they had," she says. It's a similar effect local advocates are optimistic will happen in Dallas.

It's only been since 2011 that police departments in Texas were required to preserve DNA material, and perform testing within 30 days of the crime. Until then, viable kits were often left to collect dust as they awaited testing. Experts say much of the delay can be blamed on the exorbitant price of DNA testing for rape kits.

"It is about $500 to $1000, for each kit to be tested. If it's not an active case, that cost has to be absorbed by the police department. So that's a huge amount of money to spend. And if it's not deemed a case that can have a viable prosecution, [testing] is put on hold," says Villareal.

Another financial concern has been the manpower required to investigate the cases. "I think financial and manpower -- these are investments that are going to have to start over all again," says Villareal. "DPD is sending 250 to 300 kits in this first batch, so that's potentially 250 to 300 cases that will have to start over all again. So that's a lot of manpower."

This latest push comes as part of a national initiative to clear police departments of the tremendous volume of untested, viable rape kits. In Texas alone, there are more than 20,000 untested kits. A federal grant has only recently made it possible to begin sorting through the kits.

Still, local advocates caution that these cases must be handled delicately. While 10 percent of cases may possibly find a match, 90 percent of eligible cases between 1996 and 2011 will likely come up blank -- and 90 percent of victims will have to recall old wounds and memories, with no results to show for their resurfaced pain.

"Many people may have moved or moved on with their lives, and haven't thought about this in awhile. So we really need to be survivor-centered, trauma-informed when we work with people on these cases," says Villarreal.

"I think the varied emotions that our survivors are going to experience are going to be in the forefront. This is going to be a very retriggering issue for many of these people, and we need to make sure that we are sensitive to how we approach this."

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