December 16, 2015
Updated: December 19, 2015
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation praised the inclusion of $45 million in funding for the U.S. Department of Justice’s community-based sexual assault response initiative in the FY16 omnibus bill released this morning. This community-based sexual assault response initiative provides local communities the 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 proposal released last week was championed by congressional leadership including retiring Senate Appropriations Vice Chairman Barbara A. Mikulski, and includes an additional $4 million amendment introduced by Representatives Steve Cohen and Carolyn Maloney. The bill was signed into law by the President on Friday, December 18.
“The federal government’s investment in rape kit reform continues to send the message to survivors that they – and their experiences – matter,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Joyful Heart’s Chief Executive Officer. “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. We are deeply grateful to Congress for recognizing that survivors deserve our finest efforts to give them everything we can to help them heal.”
Joyful Heart has been a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need to address their backlog of rape kits. In September 2015, Joyful Heart Founder and President Mariska Hargitay stood beside Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. as they awarded nearly $80 million in funding to more than 40 law enforcement agencies in 20 states to address their backlogs of untested rape kits.
“The rape kit backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society,” added Hargitay. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter.”
Because few state governments and no federal agencies require law enforcement to count or track the untested rape kits in their custody, we do not know the true extent of the backlog nationwide. In an effort to increase transparency and accountability, Joyful Heart launched The Accountability Project, a multi-year initiative to investigate backlogs across the country. Through pro bono partnerships with law firms Goodwin Procter LLP and Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP, Joyful Heart has already uncovered more than 24,000 untested kits. This week, an additional 25 cities, small and large, were added to the project.
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 taken meaningful action to find 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 DNA evidence, re-engaging survivors with compassion and care, and moving cases forward to prosecution. These federal funds will provide much-need support for these communities as they work to end their backlogs and secure justice for survivors.
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.
The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is 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.