The components of a sex crimes investigation kit. (Photo: Sirchie)

The components of a sex crimes investigation kit. (Photo: Sirchie)

In the most detailed nationwide inventory of untested rape kits ever, USA TODAY and journalists from more than 75 Gannett newspapers and TEGNA TV stations have found at least 70,000 neglected kits in an open-records campaign covering 1,000-plus police agencies – and counting. Despite its scope, the agency-by-agency count covers a fraction of the nation's 18,000 police departments, suggesting the number of untested rape kits reaches into the hundreds of thousands.

The kits contain forensic evidence collected from survivors in a painstaking and invasive process that can last four to six hours. Testing can yield DNA evidence that helps identify suspects, bolster prosecutions and in some cases exonerate the wrongly accused.

The records reveal widespread inconsistency in how police handle rape evidence from agency to agency, and even officer to officer. Some departments test every rape kit. Others send as few as two in 10 to crime labs.

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