Today, Joyful Heart Foundation Founder and President Mariska Hargitay was proud to stand beside Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance as they awarded nearly $80 million in funding for law enforcement agencies to address their backlogs of untested rape kits. This historic investment will help jurisdictions develop a comprehensive response to sexual assault cases, and provide resources to test backlogged kits, investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog, and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system. We are so grateful to these leaders for their leadership on this issue and their commitment to bring justice to survivors. You can watch the full press conference below and read the Joyful Heart Foundation's full statement here.
Thank you DA Vance for that very generous introduction and for your deep commitment to this issue. I have to say, I don't often get starstruck, but standing up here today—wow. I am starstruck. Why am I starstruck? Because I'm standing with leaders. One thing about leaders: they have vision. They hold out a vision for people to follow, to buy into, to believe in. You can read that in any book on leadership.
Today’s announcement is evidence of vision: a vision of what justice can and should look like, a vision of what our society's commitment to healing can and should look like. This is the biggest investment to date to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits that we know are sitting on shelves in the United States.
Today marks a historic moment in the work to end this backlog. It’s historic for jurisdictions that want to do the right thing, who now have the resources they need to test sexual assault kits; to investigate, arrest and prosecute dangerous criminal and get them off the streets. It's historic for police departments who want to engage survivors with care, expertise and compassion. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s historic for sexual assault survivors across this country.
To me, the 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 case matters. For that reason, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority.
We were heartened and encouraged as 11 states took important steps toward reform this past year, passing legislation to understand the true extent of their backlog of untested kits, legislation that will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.
We are also deeply grateful the leaders in the U.S Congress for recognizing that survivors deserve our finest efforts to give them everything we can to help them heal. None of that, and especially today's announcement, could have been realized without vision, the ability of leaders to look forward and see—and desire—a society that is better, kinder and more just.
DA Vance, again, I'm so grateful to you and full of admiration.
Attorney General Lynch, your leadership on this issue at the Department of Justice will be critical as we move this initiative along together and hold jurisdictions accountable.
Mr. Vice President. My dear friend and hero. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your unwavering support and commitment to this issue. With all my heart, my joyful and hopeful heart, on behalf of the survivors whose voices I'm privileged to bring into this room, thank you for what you do, and thank you for who you are.
The wheels of justice can indeed turn slowly, but I am so grateful, so proud and so deeply moved, to be standing with this group of leaders who are putting their shoulders to that wheel in such a bold, determined and visionary way.
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 an initiative 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.