KIYC: Is New Jersey’s treatment of rape victims violating their human rights?

Rutgers Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic wants the United Nations to investigate the treatment of survivors, which was exposed in a Kane In Your Corner investigation.

Walt Kane

May 9, 2024, 2:21 AM

Updated 19 days ago


Note: This story contains subject matter that could be disturbing to some viewers.
The International Human Rights Clinic at Rutgers Law School says that New Jersey is violating the human rights of rape victims. The clinic is asking the United Nations to investigate the “deliberate failure” to test DNA from rape kits in New Jersey and other states. New Jersey’s backlog of untested kits was the subject of a series of Kane In Your Corner investigations.
Koli Marie says after she was sexually assaulted, police “made it clear that they didn't believe me.”
“They made it feel like it was my fault,” echoes another sexual assault survivor, whom News 12 has agreed to identify only as “Jane.”
Lena Morrison says after she was raped, “It felt more like (investigators) were trying to find evidence against me rather than for me.”
After undergoing invasive forensic exams, Morrison and Jane say they were told there was no point in even testing the DNA that was recovered because prosecutors decided they would not pursue criminal charges.
They’re not alone. A Kane In Your Corner investigation found three out of four rape kits in New Jersey are backlogged and thousands never make it to crime lab at all because prosecutors choose not to test them. The IHRC says under international law, what New Jersey and some other states are doing is nothing short of a human rights violation.
“It's horrendous that (survivors) think that some action is being taken when it actually isn't,” says the clinic’s director, Penny Venetis. “The failure to take seriously a claim of rape, and to actually devote the resources to investigate that rape within a timely fashion violates the rape victim's human rights.”
The U.S. Department of Justice issued guidelines in 2022 directing law enforcement agencies nationwide to prevent what it called “gender bias in rape investigations.” The USDOJ singled out law enforcement’s “failure to submit sexual assault kits for testing.”
"It's a big deal,” says Jane. “And for them to not treat it as such, it blows my mind. It's a felony. It's not somebody stealing your toy on a playground.”
“We think a simple fix is for the federal government to say, ‘You must test rape kits, period,’” Venetis says. She tells News 12 Senior Investigative Reporter Walt Kane, “We really hope that the work that you're doing, the work that we're doing and the work that other advocates are doing, really bring this to the fore.”
Kane In Your Corner asked the Murphy administration if it thinks New Jersey is violating rape victims' human rights. A spokesperson for Attorney General Matt Platkin declined to answer, but issued a written statement, saying, "While there is more work still to be done… New Jersey has solidified its commitment to survivor-centered, trauma-informed strategies (and) will continue to identify ways to support those who have experienced harm and to hold accountable those who have harmed."
But some survivors say if the state really wants to do that, it should test their kits.

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