Victims wait as rape kits go untested

HARTFORD, Conn. (WTNH) — Dawn Artis was asleep on her couch in her Hartford apartment. Her husband had left for a comedy club. She was alone with someone they both knew and trusted when she fell asleep.

She next woke up to that person sexually assaulting her.

“I was raped and I want justice,” said Artis. “I want something done.”

A lot was done. Artis was taken to the hospital for a rape kit, a series of tests that collects DNA evidence left behind. Hartford police told her they would get back in touch when they had the evidence.

That call never came.

Artis never got that call.

In fact, she couldn’t find out what happened to her case at all. Hartford police sealed the records. Her calls for information went unreturned or when officers did call back, they gave little information at all. Eventually, she was told that there would be nothing that could be done.

After that call, her husband got involved.

“They called me May 10, 2013 and told me that they were not going to prosecute the case. A week and a day later, we got justice. They gave me permission to seek my own justice.”

Her husband, Todd Artis, is accused of felony assault against the person that his wife accused of raping her. He has a hearing scheduled for May 13.

Artis’ case of not getting information from police after a sexual assault is not isolated.

“Victims not only have to survive the assault but have to survive how the many folks in the criminal justice system treat them,” said Laura Cordes, executive director at CT Sexual Assault Crisis Services. “Sometimes it’s very positive and sometimes it’s not.”

Connecticut was facing a backlog of hundreds of kits waiting in the state lab to be tested. It would take months, even years, for victims’ to hear back. Currently, there is a shrinking backlog of 97 cases. That is what the state knows about. An unknown number of kits are waiting in police departments around Connecticut.

Cases like Deborah Sweeney’s. According to a Dec. 2, 2013 letter sent to her from Hartford State’s Attorney Gail Hardy, her case “lay dormant” for almost two years in 1999.

In 2013, the state made 383 arrests for first-degree sexual assault, but only convicted 69, according to statistics provided by the states’ judicial branch.

State Crime Lab Director Dr. Guy Vallaro said the issue is being fixed in the state. Their backlog has been reduced, and more departments are coming forward with untested kits, sometimes 50 or 100.

Vallaro would not identify which departments. The News 8 Investigators contacted 20 cities in Connecticut. None of them identified any untested rape kits.

Here’s some of what we’ve uncovered across the state of Connecticut:

Connecticut State Police Crime Lab

  • The state reports a backlog of 97 untested rape kits. The state has reduced the backlog by more than 50 percent recently.

Hartford Police

  • Hartford police requested News 8 provide a Freedom of Information request to obtain the data. As of this update, no records have been provided in response to our request.

New Haven Police

  • The New Haven Police Department has an unknown number of rape kits in evidence, but all have been tested, according to Lt. Rachel Cain. They are stored in evidence indefinitely.

Bridgeport Police

  • There are no kits waiting to be tested, according to police department spokesman Bill Kaempffer.

Bristol Police

  • Bristol police had sent a number of kits to the state lab. On March 24, 2014, officers received a call from the state lab asking if they “still needed” a number of rape kits tested.
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