The Joyful Heart Foundation is proud and excited to announce a new partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office has committed up to $35 million in funding for jurisdictions to audit the scope of their backlogs, test previously unanalyzed kits and adapt and share best practices for rape kit reform. We are honored to serve as a partner and technical advisor to the District Attorney’s Office on this first-of-its-kind grant program that will assist jurisdictions nationwide with the funding they so desperately need to analyze the untested rape kits in their police storage facilities.
Joyful Heart's Founder & President Mariska Hargitay joined New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, and survivor and founder of Natasha's Justice Project, Natasha Alexenko, at a press conference to announce this powerful initiative. "To me, 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. Not testing kits sends the opposite message. That’s why I am so filled with gratitude for the commitment that has been announced today. This is what progress looks like." Hargitay's remarks are available here.
While some jurisdictions—like New York City, Detroit, Cleveland and Memphis—are leading the way toward comprehensive rape kit reform, there is still much work to be done across the country. Many cities have not counted the untested kits in their custody. Others have acknowledged backlogs, but 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.
The District Attorney’s commitment is the single largest financial contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog to date. It is a critical step forward. Rape kit evidence can identify unknown offenders, corroborate a survivor’s account of the attack, connect crime scenes to identify serial offenders and exonerate innocent suspects. But if cities lack the resources to follow up on those leads, cases will continue to go unsolved, serial offenders will remain undetected and survivors will be left without justice.
"Today's announcement is a watershed moment in the movement to end the rape kit backlog," said Sarah Tofte, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy at Joyful Heart. "For years, cities committed to comprehensive rape kit reform have been searching for the resources necessary to test their rape kits. This new grant initiative provides them with the help they need. With this money, thousands of rape kits will be tested—and thousands of survivors will have a fighting chance of seeing perpetrators of rape brought to justice."
The U.S. Congress now has the opportunity to ensure that the testing of backlogged rape kits has the greatest impact possible. The House of Representatives and Senate Appropriations Committee included $41 million in their Commerce, Justice and Science Appropriations bills for FY15 that would provide grants to local communities to investigate and prosecute these cases, re-engage survivors, and create system-wide reforms to ensure that a backlog never occurs again. Congress must act now to approve this proposal and do its part to provide local stakeholders with the resources they need to bring healing, justice and safety to their communities.
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.
ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout 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. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.
Media Contact: Melissa Schwartz, firstname.lastname@example.org.
-November 12th, 2014