NEW YORK - The Joyful Heart Foundation today applauded the availability of $35 million in new grants to aid jurisdictions working to end the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States. The funding, made available through a unique new program by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY), can be used to test previously unanalyzed rape kits.
DNA evidence contained in a rape kit can identify unknown assailants, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, connect the suspect to other unsolved crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects. And yet, there are thousands upon thousands of rape kits sitting untested across the country representing countless leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care, and cases to prosecute.
“This step by District Attorney Cyrus Vance is truly visionary,” said Maile M. Zambuto, CEO of Joyful Heart, which will serve as a technical advisor to DANY for this initiative. “Focusing a national effort on comprehensive rape kit reform demonstrates a commitment to survivors that we will do everything possible to bring healing and justice. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes.”
In 1999, New York City discovered 17,000 untested sexual assault evidence kits, commonly referred to as rape kits, in its storage facilities. The City analyzed all of these kits, investigated DNA hits, and prosecuted offenders—taking dangerous criminals off the streets and bringing justice to survivors.
Yet while some jurisdictions are leading the way toward comprehensive rape kit reform, there is still much work to be done. Many cities have not counted the untested kits in their custody. Others that have acknowledged backlogs have not done anything further toward finding a solution. Those cities that do have the will to commit to eliminating their backlogs often lack the resources necessary to do so, and testing kits is just the first step toward healing for survivors, accountability for perpetrators, and safety for our communities. Jurisdictions must also commit to investigating and following up on leads generated by testing, re-engaging survivors with compassion and care, and moving cases forward to prosecution.
Joyful Heart Founder Mariska Hargitay, who joined DA Vance at a press conference in late 2014 to announce this initiative, said: “The rape kit backlog sends two terrible messages: to victims, it says: you don’t matter. What happened to you doesn’t matter. And to criminals, it says: what you did doesn't matter. Testing the kits reverses those messages. Survivors hear the message: You do matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter.”
DANY’s funding supplements an additional $41 million being made available through the U. S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), which will allow jurisdictions to not only test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities, but to also create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases, and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.
States, territories, units of local and tribal government, law enforcement agencies, and public forensic labs are eligible to apply for funding. Each award will be for up to $2 million over a two-year period. Proposals are due on June 1, 2015 by 5:00pm ET.
For more information, including details about an upcoming informational webinar hosted by DANY on April 20, 2015, go to manhattanda.org.
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org