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Editorial: NM is closer to ensuring rape victims get justice

It takes a lot of courage for a rape victim to come forward to report the crime. Providing samples as proof of the crime can be an emotionally taxing experience for someone trying to recover from such a horrifying violation.

Unfortunately for many victims in New Mexico, and Albuquerque specifically, the wheels of justice have not exactly turned swiftly for those who have bravely come forward. According to an audit performed in 2016 while Albuquerque Mayor Tim Keller was state auditor, New Mexico led the nation in the number of untested rape kits per capita. The report found 254 untested kits for every 100,000 New Mexico residents.

The good news is there’s progress in eliminating the backlog, clearing the way for cases to be prosecuted. Earlier this month, Keller reported the city of Albuquerque has cut its massive backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits in half – 2,678 kits remain to be processed. That pile of undone business needed for justice to be served had been growing since the 1980s.

Keller’s update came days after Gov. Susana Martinez said the state forensic lab had cleared all of its untested kits, which accounted for about a quarter of the cases uncovered in a special audit. Cases that originated in the Albuquerque area made up 74 percent of the state’s backlog. The state has now offered the city assistance in clearing the remainder of its inventory.

We applaud the state and the city for their efforts in getting sexual assault investigations on track. The bad news is that, sadly, it comes too late for too many.

Michael Patrick, spokesman for the 2nd Judicial District Attorney’s Office, said 1,850 cases have been forwarded to prosecutors since February. Of those, 740 are open and pending further review and investigation. But prosecutors have closed 567 cases, many because the statute of limitations expired.

“Sadly, time has simply run out to seek justice for these victims,” he said.

We urge officials to continue working to reach Keller’s goal of clearing the city backlog by the end of 2020. No rape victim seeking justice should ever hear their case won’t be prosecuted simply because law enforcement officials ran out of time.

This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.

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