Four hundred thousand sexual assault or rape kits sit on shelves untested all across the country

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WASHINGTON (WUSA9) -- WUSA9 has been reporting on the gross injustice many rape victims endure in this country.

After an assault, victims often undergo a four-hour, invasive exam where a nurse combs their body for DNA. Four hundred thousand such sexual assault or rape kits sit on shelves untested all across the country, even though DNA could help get their rapists off the street. We called many of the jurisdictions that make up WUSA9's viewing area, and found that D.C. has a backlog of 85 kits presently.

We were invited to see a rare inside look at their lab.

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The District's Department of Forensic Services is located in a state-of-the-art building holding down the corner of E and 4th Streets in Southwest. Director Max Houck shared that the District's rape kits are being tested for DNA quicker today than ever before, "Right now, the shortest turnaround time is 34 days. The national average is around 78." Since this lab opened in October 2012, Houck has taken several steps to streamline processing. The lab is taking advantage of two grants to help end the backlog, one of which gives them enough money to hire two full-time forensic scientists, including Shana Mills, who's been given carte blanche to come up with ways to streamline, "The paperwork that's required to process the initial processing of a kit, we've decreased it from about 12 pages down to two or three."

Also, the two scientists work solely on rape kits - no DNA testing for homicides, nor robberies or other crimes - that helps get results quicker. They also added printers and moved equipment with in the lab all with an eye towards efficiency. It is a job they take seriously.

Mills says her favorite part of her job is, "Helping people who cannot help themselves through science."

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