As you know, I post on occassion about causes that are important to me, such as sexual assault awareness and I post things that The Joyful Heart Foundation emails to me.
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation expressed its gratitude to the members of the U.S. House of Representatives who included $45 million to address the nation’s rape kit backlog in the FY16 spending bill, which passed today. The final funding passed includes an additional $4 million above the President’s request – the result of an amendment sponsored by champions Rep. Steve Cohen and Rep. Carolyn Maloney.
“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,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Joyful Heart’s Chief Executive Officer. “We thank leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives for prioritizing this funding. We must continue on a path toward greater access to justice, to treat rape as seriously as any other crime, to test all kits, investigate cases thoroughly and pursue leads resulting from rape kit testing, and to believe survivors and honor the decision to report their sexual assault.”
Over the past several years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country. These are rape kits that never made it to a crime lab for testing.
More than 20 state legislatures have passed legislation, have bills pending, or are drafting legislation that requires sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory kit submission timelines. These state laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits in police storage facilities and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.
This community-based sexual assault response initiative at the Justice Department will provide local communities resources to: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities; create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog; and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system. The Department is currently reviewing grant proposals for the $41 million in funds first created in FY15.
The Joyful Heart Foundation, led by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, has been a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need address their backlogs. “The rape kit backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter.”
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 in police storage facilities across the country representing thousands of leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care, and cases to prosecute.
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.
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.