St. John’s Antigua- Dozens of sex assault victims could be denied justice because government does not have the funds to send used rape kits overseas for forensic analysis.
Many kits have allegedly been sitting on ice for months due to a lack of cash, according to Alexandrina Wong, president of the Women Against Rape (WAR) lobby group.
She made the complaint in an exclusive interview with OBSERVER Media yesterday, while adding that the consequence of the problem is that several sexual assault cases have been delayed.
Wong said, “I don’t know if there are hundreds of rape kits, but I know there are a number of rape kits in Antigua waiting to be sent off for testing. Wherever they are going now and the impression we get, is that they have been sitting there for some time because of inadequate funds to have the test done.”
The human rights activist said she discussed the situation “with persons in authority who would be privy to the situation” and is extremely worried that justice for both victim and accused is being delayed, and possibly denied.
“I am very concerned. It is cause for grave concern because that is evidence which will lead to a possible arrest or trial, conviction (or release) of an alleged perpetrator,” Wong said.
For victims, she said, it can be very frustrating to have to wait extended periods to know what is happening with their matter “and information is not always forthcoming.”
Another problem that exists, she said, is selective shipping of samples.
“What we (WAR) have learnt also is that a certain number of kits may be sent off or taken for testing, but not a whole lot, and we are not sure what is the criteria for choosing which kits would be sent for testing,” Wong stated.
Asked about further details on the aforementioned issues, Wong referred OBSERVER Media to the Commissioner of Police Vere Browne.
When contacted, Browne declined to comment saying he needed to personally hear Wong’s remarks before speaking to the media.
In the meantime, a senior member of the legal fraternity, attorney Steadroy “Cutie” Benjamin, said he is unaware that lack of finances has affected the processing of rape kits, though he knows it has happened with many other cases.
Having served as defence counsel in many criminal cases, Benjamin said, “I do know for a fact that a number of other cases have been affected because government has been unable to pay for forensic testing available overseas, to be performed. It is usually done in Barbados and other jurisdictions.”
Many cases requiring forensic testing of certain types of evidence including blood, saliva and other bodily fluids have been affected.
However, Benjamin, like several other members of the legal fraternity, said most sexual offences cases are seldom reliant upon forensic evidence.
One source said if there is one case that has been affected, it is one too many.