RALEIGH – Last fall the body of 13 year old Hania Noelia Aguilar of Lumberton was found dead days after she had been reported missing. She had been raped and murdered. Later a suspect was arrested, but the most alarming detail of his arrest was that his DNA linked him to another rape in 2016, which was never followed up on. If it had, Hania’s murder could have been prevented.
While an investigator was fired, the tragedy and hugely consequential oversight draws attention to the larger issue of rape-kit backlogs in North Carolina.
The backlog has been growing for years, and a new report from ABC News highlights how North Carolina has the largest such backlog in the entire country.
“[…] The fact that the 2016 rape kit had been tested at all is remarkable, critics say. Between 14,000 to 15,000 other rape kits in North Carolina are waiting their turn in a massive backlog that’s been piling up for years, leaving potential repeat offenders like Aguilar’s alleged killer free to find their next target. […]
Testing rape kits can both help get justice for a survivor and stop a person from committing sexual assault or further offenses, according to Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national organization tackling sexual assault. Because of that, a rape kit backlog “is a public safety issue,” she said.
“These are preventable crimes in many ways,” Knecht told ABC News. “We have the technology, we have the science, to take these very, very dangerous people off the streets, and it hasn’t been used.”
North Carolina has the highest known number of untested kits of any state, according to data collected by End the Backlog, a Joyful Heart Foundation initiative. Knecht estimates it will take “years and years” to test them all. The next highest state is California with 13,615 untested kits — and four times as many people.[…]”
The issue hasn’t gone unnoticed in North Carolina, just unresolved. The State received $2 million via a federal grant in October 2018 to tackle the problem, about half of witch can be used to outsource the testing of rape-kits to private labs that are which process them faster than the state-controlled labs. Still, that money will only covered about 10 percent of the backlog.
The longer the backlog persists, the longer victims go without justice and the longer communities across the state are needlessly subjected to the possibility that criminals will strike again when they should already be behind bars.
For more on North Carolina’s backlog, and what’s being done to prevent another tragedy like that of Hania Aguilar, click here.