“It could never happen to me though, right?”

Sitting on our comfortable couches in our secure homes and watching news stories about people who have lost loved ones to the most terrible, violent crimes, we think to ourselves: “That’s awful for them, but it won’t happen to me.” But what if it did?

Becoming a victim of a violent crime or loving someone who becomes a victim of a crime in the United States is not uncommon. In 2016, 2.9 million people in the United States were victims of at least one “violent crime”—crimes defined by their inherent violence, which include offenses like rape, murder, and sexual assault. In the same year, 28.4% of people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-four were victims of violent crimes—for females, that percentage grew to 33.4%. In fact, the United States has been reported to be one of the most dangerous countries in the world.

Even worse, many of these crimes go unsolved. In the past decade, 54,868 homicides were committed in the United States. Out of those, fifty percent never resulted in an arrest of any suspect. In 2017, only 34.5% of reported rapes resulted in the prosecution or identification of any perpetrator. Violent crimes are uniquely situated because perpetrators often leave behind DNA at the crime scenes—but even if a full forensic DNA profile was able to be salvaged, too often the forensic sample does not match any profile in the DNA databases of the criminal justice system. This situation creates a dead-end for law enforcement: no arrest can be made since a forensic profile with no match in the system is like finding a fingerprint without a suspect’s name attached to it—it is just a useless, anonymous profile.

So, what if there was a way for law enforcement to increase its ability to solve these violent crimes? What if law enforcement could theoretically access millions of more DNA profiles to compare to their “John Doe” profiles, thereby solving violent crimes that haven’t been solved in decades? What if solace could finally be given to those victims and their families, and what if violent criminals could be prevented from committing these vicious crimes for years on end?

Law enforcement has indeed found a way. In 2018, for the first time, police sought to broaden their number of DNA profile comparisons to more than just the profiles in the criminal justice system’s database. They did so for one particular suspect, dubbed “The Golden State Killer,” who had committed at least sixty murders and rapes that had gone unsolved in California for over forty years. Instead of only submitting the forensic profile found at the scene to the national law enforcement database, as they had done many times to no avail, law enforcement thought of a new way to find a match. This time, detectives submitted the forensic profile to GEDMatch.



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