A Message from Mariska
Over the course of my twelve years playing detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, I have learned a lot about the reality of rape in the United States. One in four women will experience sexual violence in their lifetime. Most victims will never report their rape to the police. With FBI data showing that only 24% of reported rapes resulting in an arrest, perpetrators have a 76% chance of getting away with rape. For all of us who care about healing and justice for rape victims, these facts are hard to stomach. This website focuses on another difficult reality of rape in the United States—the fact that experts in the federal government, including the Department of Justice and members of Congress have estimated that hundreds of thousands of sexual assault evidence kits ("rape kits") may be sitting untested in police and crime labs throughout the country.
With rape, unlike other crimes, the victim's own body is the crime scene. When a person reports a sexual assault, he or she will be asked to submit to a rape kit exam—a four to six hour process to collect DNA evidence from her or his body. Rape kit testing can identify an unknown assailant, confirm a suspect's contact with the victim, corroborate the victim's account of the assault, identify serial rapists by connecting crime scene evidence from separate incidents, and exonerate innocent suspects. National studies have shown that cases in which rape kit evidence was tested were more likely to proceed through the criminal justice system and lead to arrests. When law enforcement officials make the decision to test every rape kit, and when they are given the resources they need to fully investigate sexual assaults, it makes a difference in victim's lives and for public safety.
Not testing rape kits denies justice for victims and allows perpetrators to remain free. The benefit of testing rape kits goes beyond providing prosecutors with investigative tools to bring offenders to justice. It goes beyond introducing the clarity of DNA evidence into the arena of rape and sexual assault, the crimes with the lowest reporting, arrest, and prosecution rates in the United States. These kits represent human beings who have suffered greatly. Testing their rape kits sends victims the fundamental and crucial message that they and their cases matter.
In addition to my role on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, I am the Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that works to bring healing, education and empowerment to survivors, and awareness to the public about sexual and family violence. When I first learned about the rape kit backlog, I was shocked that something like this could exist in the United States. And then I, and my foundation were moved to action. We are not alone. Law enforcement, public officials, and advocates have paved the way and continue to work in partnership with us on this important issue.
The best way to create change is to shed light on an issue. That is why the Joyful Heart Foundation has created this website. We hope it will serve as a comprehensive resource for those looking to learn more about the rape kit backlog, and what can be done to end it.
Recently, I heard from a rape victim whose kit was tested thirteen years after she was raped. The DNA in her kit matched to the profile of a convicted rapist already in prison. Learning the identify of her rapists, and the fact that he was in a place where he could not hurt her, gave this woman a sense of peace she had not felt since before her rape. It is for this woman and all the others like her that I am committed to doing my part to end the rape kit backlog. I hope that you will join us in the cause. Together, we can end the rape kit backlog, and bring healing and justice to rape survivors. Thank you for visiting endthebacklog.org. Share what you learn here and together, we can end the rape kit backlog.