Thousands of women in Florida say they were raped. Yet, tests that hold the evidence are sitting on shelves untouched.
The problem stems from a lack of funding at the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Attorney General Pam Bondi’s goal is to get every rape kit in the state tested. FDLE says that will cost taxpayers $35 million — the amount the agency is requesting in next year’s state budget.
However, very little of that money will be spent in Southwest Florida. Lee, Hendry, Glades and Collier Counties don’t have the backlog in untested rape kits that other counties do.
“This is an issue that is important to every mother. It’s important to every father,” said Republican State Representative Janet Atkins, District 11.
“We know that there are thousands of untested rape kits out there,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Bondi said the kits contain data that could help put more sex offenders behind bars.
“You may think you got away with a crime, but with us putting this DNA into the system, we’re going to be able to come after you,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco.
The system Sheriff Nocco referred to is known as COTUS. It’s a national database that helps identify sex offenders.
“There’s a chance to find serial rapists and to find them across the nation,” said Jennifer Benton, CEO Abuse Counseling & Treatment Inc.
While there isn’t a backlog locally, Benton said the problem in Lee, Hendry, and Glades Counties is the number of rape cases being reported.
“Here in Lee County, they have more than doubled over the past six months,” said Benton.
Last year, four to six victims showed up at the agency to report a rape. Now, that number has increased to 12 – 15 victims each month.
The Lee County Sheriff’s Office reports that in 2014 there were 108 rapes reported. Already this year they’re up to 89, and there are three months left in the year.
Benton points to a growing population and more women coming forward.
“That statistic does shock me,” said Representative Heather Fitzenhagen, District 78.
Fitzenhagen is looking at the issue and believes education could play a role in reducing the high number of rape cases being reported.
“You need to be more cautious about who you’re spending time with and make sure you’re careful for yourself always,” warned Fitzenhagen.
She said know who you’re with because a majority of the cases are date rapes.
Many people are being drugged while out at bars and restaurants.
The experts say it’s not just women being raped. They’ve seen more men raped this year too.