GREENSBORO, N.C. — Ambra Janney Preston still feels the sharp pain of remembering her horrific past. When she was just seven and a half years old, she had an unimaginable secret.

"Just one night, he just came in the room. That's when it started." 

Preston suffered more than two years of sexual abuse at the hands of her then-stepfather, who threatened to hurt her family if she told anyone. Even after Preston got justice in court, it took her years to seek counseling. Over the years, she wrote down her story but hadn't spoken about it publicly until her first TV interview with WFMY News 2's Meghann Mollerus last year.

"When someone reports a rape or sexual assault, it needs to be investigated properly," Preston said.

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At that time, she felt compelled to speak up. Because, in February 2018, the NC Department of Justice's Sexual Assault Kit Inventory revealed 15,160 untested rape kits dating back decades, either backlogged or ineligible (in cases where the victim wants to remain anonymous, or a suspect admits to the alleged act).

After that report came out, Mollerus went to the Raleigh State Crime Lab for answers and learned of a four-part solution: 

  • Open a second DNA lab in western North Carolina
  • Cut the test time for new kits from seven to four months
  • Pass legislation to outsource the old kits in the inventory
  • Create a way to track them

In the year since then, there has been some progress. The western lab is up and running in Asheville. The test time is down to six months but not four, and so far, there is no new law to test old kits. A new bill called the Survivors Act could change that and require law enforcement agencies to submit qualifying kits within 45 days, if lawmakers approve $6 million in funding. 

Until then, Attorney General Josh Stein's office confirms approximately 800 of the 15,000 untested kits -- just five percent -- are out for testing at private labs.

"They can only test so many at one time. So, what I hope is if the General Assembly gives us the funding that we're going to seek in the upcoming session, over the next two to three years we can eliminate the backlog in North Carolina," Stein said.

Stein did make good on his promise to put a tracking system in place. Cone Health launched it in October. Sexual assault nurse examiners (SANE nurses) input the kit's bar code, expiration and collection date then send the information to the investigating law enforcement agency, who then sends it to the State Crime Lab. The patient can log in and track the kit, knowing its location and status at any moment. It's a process Cone Health SANE nurse Cathy Rossi said is a step toward accountability.

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"There's nothing I can do to make a rape go away. It's something we're hoping they can pivot from and move forward, so that it doesn't become this point in their life where they're stuck in this place," Rossi said.

It's a place where Preston once was stuck and the reason she first shared her story publicly last year. Since then, she finished her degree, entered her second year of marriage and found strength in faith. She also received an answered prayer -- her first child.

Preston wants other sexual abuse survivors to hold onto hope and feel unashamed to get help. A butterfly analogy on her Facebook page shares the her evolving story, from child in pain to advocate in hope.

"A caterpillar gets into a cocoon and stays there to be safe. It's dark and gloomy. My childhood was dark and gloomy. At the end of my counseling session, I thought of myself as the butterfly, busting out of the cocoon and experiencing this new life that's full of colors," she smiled.

What's the butterfly doing now?

"Still living that great life."

If you or someone you know has experienced sexual assault, sexual abuse or rape, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is a 24-hour resource. 

The number for the National Sexual Assault Hotline is 1-800-656-(HOPE)4673.

There are several Triad-area sexual assault help resources:

Help, Incorporated (Rockingham County) - 336-342-3331, 336-342-3332 (crisis line)

Family Justice Center (Guilford County) - 336-641-7233

Family Service of the Piedmont (Guilford) 336-273-7273

Family Crisis Center of Randolph County (Randolph County) - 336-629-4159 (Asheboro), 336-434-5579 (Archdale), 910-571-9745 (Troy)

Find a full county-by-county list of crisis centers on NC Coalition Against Sexual Assault (NCCASA).