OAKLAND -- Natasha Alexenko waited more than nine years for the man who raped her to be arrested and charged with the crime.
The case could have been solved in 90 days.
Alexenko's long wait for justice is one that hundreds of thousands of woman endure as cash-strapped and overworked police departments fail to send DNA collected through rape kits to labs for testing.
There are more than 400,000 rape kits sitting on evidence room shelves throughout the U.S. collecting dust rather than clues that routinely lead to the arrest and conviction of a sexual predator.
Alexenko, 33, is hoping to eliminate that backlog and is beginning in Alameda County, where her New York City-based not-for-profit organization, Natasha's Justice Project, has donated $500,000, and pledged to raise $1 million more, to eliminate a backlog of untested rape kits.
"It's important to test these kits; you're often able to close cases and find out that the person did this before," Alexenko said. "Unfortunately, most of these kits do not ever leave the police department."
Alameda County has about 2,000 untested rape kits sitting on evidence shelves at its police departments. The kits haven't been tested for numerous reasons, including the cost and, in some instances, because a case has already been solved.
It costs between $800 and $1,200 to test evidence collected in a rape kit, and it also requires the work of an expert criminologist.
Alameda County's two crime labs, operated by the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff's Office suffer from both problems, an Alameda County civil grand jury investigation found last year.
Alexenko said she decided to begin her campaign to reduce rape kit backlogs in the county because of the size of its backlog and because District Attorney Nancy O'Malley answered Alexenko's offer to help.
The untested kits in Alameda County will be sent to an independent laboratory for initial testing. The results of those tests will then be reviewed by criminologists working at labs at the Oakland Police Department and the Sheriff's Office. The results of the DNA tests will then be placed in a countrywide database that is used by law enforcement to match suspects to crimes.
Erasing the rape kit backlog will help solve the crimes for which the kit was used and, most likely, other crimes committed by the defendant, said deputy district attorney Jason Chin.
"These rapists are not specialists; they often don't find a single victim and often don't commit a single crime," Chin said. "There is really no excuse for not getting this done. It is so valuable to have these profiles in the system."
While only 20 percent of rapes are committed by strangers, Chin said it was important to test rape kits that come from cases that have been solved through witness identifications. Not only does evidence collected from the kit help corroborate a victim's testimony, it often connects defendants to other crimes, Chin said.
Alexenko said she hopes to erase all backlogs throughout the U.S. but realistically believes her organization can raise enough money to erase backlogs in four major metropolitan areas.
By erasing Alameda County's backlog, Alexenko hopes to generate publicity that shows the importance of having all rape kits analyzed.
"Part of the problem is people don't know about this issue," Alexenko said. "We want to make the public aware because when the public is aware, they are not going to take it anymore."