END THE BACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a national non-profit organization founded by actress and activist Mariska Hargitay with the mission to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.
END THE BACKLOG, the cornerstone of Joyful Heart’s Policy & Advocacy work, focuses on shining a light on the rape kit backlog in the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it; expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials; and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. Ultimately, we seek to change attitudes about sexual violence and abuse, educate the public, improve systems to lessen the trauma survivors experience and ensure greater access to justice for survivors.
Backed by staff members who are national experts on the rape kit backlog and board members who themselves have successfully eliminated backlogs in their communities, Joyful Heart works to identify jurisdictions with rape kit backlogs and to assist them with developing and implementing survivor-centered reforms. As they move forward with clearing their backlogs, we provide guidance and expertise on best practices, such as how to re-engage survivors whose kits went untested for years or even decades, a process called victim notification. Through our ongoing research, we make information available on where the backlog exists and how jurisdictions have improved their rape kit testing policies. We work to ensure that survivors and their experiences are at the center of all reforms.
END THE BACKLOG in Action
In 2008, the City of Detroit shut down its police crime lab after an audit found significant errors in the evaluation of evidence. Following the closure, in 2009, the Wayne County Prosecutor's Office discovered 11,304 untested rape kits sitting in a Detroit Police Department storage facility. The rape kit backlog in Detroit represents one of the largest known backlogs in a city in the United States.
Since then, Detroit has begun eliminating its backlog with a deeply committed team of community partners including prosecutors, members of law enforcement, researchers, city officials and advocates. In our capacity as a partner, Joyful Heart provides a national perspective on the rape kit backlog, leverages media and high-profile advocates to bring attention to the backlog and offers guidance to ensure that reforms remain survivor-centered.
For years, the team has worked to analyze the causes of Detroit’s rape kit backlog and implement a plan to end it through an action research grant awarded by the National Institute of Justice (NIJ). Despite significant challenges in securing funding in a dire economic climate, funds have come from various sources toward ending Detroit’s backlog, including $4 million from the State of Michigan and $50,000 in private donations. As of the most recent count, 1404 kits have been tested, resulting in 238 hits in the national DNA databank and the identification of 46 potential serial rapists. DNA from the kits tested so far has linked to crimes committed in 12 other states and the District of Columbia.
"Joyful Heart now provides us with expertise, guidance and a national perspective. They are helping to find ways to secure the funds needed to test the remaining kits and ensuring that all efforts to end this atrocity, including the creation of a victim notification process, remain victim-centered."
- Kym Worthy, Wayne County Prosecutor