Natasha’s story is powerful. It’s the story of a woman who was able to use a shocking and traumatic past to battle a current crisis as serious as any. In 1993, Natasha S. Alexenko was raped in New York City. After the attack, Natasha, went to the hospital to receive treatment. At the hospital doctors collected evidence to be placed in what is called a rape kit. Rape kits are put together following incidences of sexual assault and contain physical evidence including DNA evidence that can be collected with the hope of using that evidence to make an arrest. But Natasha’s rape kit didn’t lead to an arrest until 14 years later.
Following the 1993 assault, the New York City Police Department exhausted all leads without arrest. The evidence collected at the hospital sat in a rape kit on a shelf, nearly forgotten and unused. But in 2003, ten years after Natasha’s assault, something changed. The Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, announced the John Doe Indictment Project. This initiative was aimed at stopping a huge number of sex offenders, from escaping prosecution through a statute of limitation loophole. A statute of limitations is a legal limit on the amount of time a person can be tried for a crime after that crime has been committed. 600 suspected sex offenders stood to escape prosecution at the time the John Doe Indictment Project was announced. Bloomberg and city leadership saw an opportunity to use technology and DNA evidence to close many outstanding sexual offense cases and bring justice to their victims. In 2003, at the time of announcement, Bloomberg explained, “DNA technology and the New York State DNA Databank are helping us to solve more violent sex crimes than ever before.”
Bloomberg’s John Doe Indictment Project was the first step in catching Victor Rondon, the man who brutally raped, beat, and robbed Natasha. In fact, less than a year passed before Natasha was called upon to give testimony that would allow the evidence collected on the night of her attack to be used if ever a suspect was caught. With DNA evidence at their disposal, authorities could match it against other DNA records in the database, as well as the DNA evidence of new arrests. It was a waiting game, and the wait ended in 2007. Victor Rondon was arrested on minor charges in Las Vegas, where authorities took DNA evidence. Rondon’s DNA was run against a DNA records database which showed a positive match to the evidence of Natasha’s case. The suspect was flown to New York, where he was tried, convicted, and sentenced to 44-107 years.
Natasha’s story exposes the opportunity of justice that sits on the shelves of our nation’s crime labs and police storage facilities. On these shelves sit thousands pieces of evidence that could bring justice to victims of sexual assault and prevent future crimes by locking up perpetrators. Tested rape kits could be used in unsolved sexual assault cases all over the country. To understand how powerful a tested rape kit can be all we need to do is consider the arrest rates for incidences of rape. For example, the national arrest rate for rape in the United States is 24%, compared to an average of 74% in New York City where every rape kit is tested. How big is the problem? There are about 400,000 untested rape kits in the United States. Out of every 100 incidences of rape, 3 rapists will receive a jail sentence.
In 2011, 18 years after her attack, and 3 years after the conviction of her attacker, Natasha Alexenko using her experience and facing the staggering crisis of the nation’s rape kit backlog began a new nonprofit set to bring justice to victims of sexual assault. Through grants that allow municipalities to reduce or eliminate their rape kit backlog, education and awareness about the nation’s rape kit backlog crisis, and grants to allow victims to fly to court to give testimony that allow their evidence to be used in court,Natasha’s Justice Project is making a difference for victims of sexual assault across the country. The crisis is far from over, and Natasha’s Justice Project needs help in ending rape kit backlog and bringing justice to those who deserve it most.