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The White House recently reminded us that our rape-kit problem is going nowhere fast. Four hundred thousand kits and counting stacked on evidence-room shelves are potentially hoarding powerful DNA evidence that could lock up dangerous sexual predators nationwide. Sounds straightforward enough—pay to test the kits, enter the DNA profiles into CODIS, and investigate the hits. But, like most things in life, the problem is in the funding.

The Obama administration recently announced a grant program to fund testing and improve investigations. Last year's Sexual Assault Kit Initiative awarded $41 million to 20 jurisdictions, which was a well-needed shot in the arm. The 2016 SAKI program will award $45 million. But as the years pass and the problem continues to grow, how much will America’s rape-kit problem cost?

Last year, the City of Houston announced a $6 million initiative to test all its kits dating back to the 1980s. The city only paid $453 per kit, which is a basement-bottom price (most experts estimate the cost of testing a kit at over $1,000). At that price, testing the nation’s backlog would cost around $180 million, well within the government's $600 million authorized in the Debbie Smith Act through 2019.

But, the real problem is in the legwork. Once the results are in, labs still have to examine and analyze the results. Then, law enforcement agencies have to find the resources to mount full investigations. Those expenditures can cost much more than the testing itself. Ramit Plushnick-Masti, of the Houston Forensic Science Center, said finding the funding was a major stumbling block. “You’re not only providing for the cost of testing the kits,” she said, “but the cost of having the resources internally to take cases to the next level and that’s where there was a lot of expense.”

What we do know is that testing the backlog keeps criminals off the streets. A court in Ohio sentenced serial rapist Dwayne Wilson to life last year. Already a known pedophile, Wilson was convicted of seven counts of rape after his DNA matched rape kit evidence relating to assaults on four women in Cleveland in the 1990s. The judge called Wilson “the worst of the worst.” The most shocking part of the story: when Wilson was initially indicted, he was just days away from being released from prison, where he was serving five years for sexual battery. Evidence from a decades-old rape kit prevented a convicted pedophile from walking back onto the same streets where he physically forced women and young girls into his car and raped them at knifepoint.

While we don’t know what the ultimate cost of testing all America’s rape kits will be, we do know that it saves lives. What we may never know—and the true value of these programs—is how many innocent women and children have already been saved.

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