The ‘Rape Kit’ Fail

Dave Petraglia
Nov 9, 2016 · 3 min read

For something to seem trivial, a casual name only helps.

Like “Rape Kit”.

For something to be ignorable, forgettable, or diminished in importance, allow it a name only a child can delight in.

There is nothing else in the universe of evidence law that suggests a ‘kit’, as if the procedures it specified were an ‘exercise’, gaily assembled and dutifully gift-wrapped, under the casual eye of a counselor at summer camp.

Is there a ‘Hit-and-Run Kit’? A ‘Homicide Kit’? ‘Narcotics Kit’? ‘Domestic Violence Kit’?

‘Kit’ conjures little jars of fingerpaints, tin whistles, a teddy bear, and beading supplies. A bright box of taco shells and a package of sauce. A travel kit. A drum kit. Mess kit. Press kit.

If it was an offense for a crime specifically against a man, would it be named differently?

This is not about man-bashing, or kit-bashing, or police procedures-bashing. It’s just meant to point out that what was no doubt a harmless working title for the results of evidentiary procedures, has outlived its usefulness and insinuated itself entirely too uncomfortably into the legal lexicon.

Rape evidence is real evidence. Open a ‘kit’. Unfold the drop cloth. These drippings of an assailant’s fluids and skin and hairs are not ‘practice’, not a ‘work in progress’. They age from the moment they are submitted, the pain they cause persists and debases as time passes. They stain the cloth and the sensibilities of a justice-seeking society when forgotten in evidence warehouses. Fingernail scrapings. Saliva. All or part of these clues, if and when analyzed, can deliver equity to the wronged and justice to predators roaming at liberty. It can free the wrongly-accused, and prevent future suffering.

This evidence must be dignified with a name equal to its importance. The hundreds of thousands of ‘kits’ in storage today in the US represent a fraction of what the rapists are likely responsible for, as their apprehension is stymied by this grievous inactivity, and they remain free to wander the landscape.

Got a warehouse full? Easy to dismiss with a wave of the hand as: ‘Here’s 1,000 rape kits waiting to be processed.’

Not so easy: ‘Here are 1,000 rape cases waiting to be processed.’ That is, ‘Here are 1,000 cases of women violated during a felony act, possibly several, exposed to terror, pain, humiliation and STD’s, facing a possible lifetime of sexual or social dysfunction, nightmares, fears and trauma unknown.’

Are there ever occasions when ‘politically correct’ is correct, when debating labels is important and not a delusive waste of time? Yes, and yes. At a time when the Rolling Stone/UVA fiasco has cast a pall upon decades of progress in victim advocacy, we must be more precise and unequivocal than ever. Let’s dignify this physical testimony and not continue to compound the problem through perception.

It’s not a trivial matter; it’s a trivial word: ‘kit’. The law is words, just words, after all. Words precisely assembled and referenced, their meanings inventoried, invoked and argued in the furtherance of fair, sane and merciful social systems. We hope. An old proverb bids us: ‘Where the law is uncertain there is no law.’

‘Kit’ suggests fragmentary, not whole, awaiting completion. Yes, all evidence must be treated with a healthy skepticism, however, by the time a ‘rape kits’ are submitted to evidence, they surely are cases on police precincts’ books somewhere.

And each is a Rape Case.

(Graphic by the author)

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Dave Petraglia

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