By Melissa Caen

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — She plays a tough detective on the show Law & Order SVU, but on Friday, actress Mariska Hargitay took a stand for real-life rape victims on Capitol Hill in an emotional appeal to end the massive backlog of untested rape kits.

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A special bipartisan task force on treating sexual assault met Friday to discuss what can be done to facilitate the testing of rape kits.  We learned California is far behind other states.

“These are not kits sitting on the shelf, these are people’s lives sitting on the shelf,” said Hargitay, a longtime advocate for victims of sexual assault.

“Start with auditing. To simply audit and know exactly how many kits we have,” Hargitay said. “If we can track our children’s Christmas presents, why can’t we track a rape kit?”

In California there’s no requirement that rape kits be tested or tracked.

We asked Alameda County District Attorney Nancy O’Malley to tell us how many untested rape kits are there in California.

O’Malley said, “Well, we don’t know.”

Local law enforcement officers can simply choose not to test a kit.

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One common reason to ignore the DNA is if the victim knows the attacker.

Richard Bell, Special Investigations Division Chief in Cuyahoga County, Ohio said, “If you knew the identity of the assailant, the prosecutors and the police, the juries, nobody would need to have the kit tested, it was thought because you have to prove I.D. So, if it was a date rape and the victim knew who the rapist was, that part of the case is solved. The issue was just consent.”

But Bell said Friday that testing all kits — even ones where the victim knows the attacker — leads to solving other crimes.

“The testing has revealed that you solve these stranger rape cases because the stranger rapists — who are dangerous offenders — sure enough they are mean people to the people they know,” Bell said.

Bay Area Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-California) is a co-chair of the committee that met Friday.

“We would never, ever let the DNA in a murder case sit on the shelf and yet, it is commonplace to let the DNA of sexual assault victims sit on the shelf,” Speier said.

The California Sheriff’s Association is opposing a California bill that would require untested rape kits be counted and reported state wide.

In San Francisco, all rape kits are tested and tracked, and it might not be long before the rest of the state and the nation is required to do the same.

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Speier said, This is an injustice committed against women because they are women. And we must refuse to let this injustice stand.”