Justice for Rape Survivors

Full Funding Needed to Support New $35 Million Grant Program to Investigate, Prosecute Cases Connected to Untested Rape Kits

President Obama’s FY2015 budget proposal includes dedicated funding for competitive grants that will provide communities across the country with the vital resources they need—and are asking for—to support multi-disciplinary community response teams tasked with developing and implementing comprehensive rape kit reform.

This new $35 million grant program in the Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Assistance will:

  • Create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases resulting from processing those previously untested rape kits;
  • Respond to the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system; and 
  • Establish best practices for comprehensive rape kit reform in cities and states across the US.

THE PROBLEM

Over the past five years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country—20,000 in Texas, 12,669 in Los Angeles, 4,000 in Illinois, 5,523 in Ohio, 11,304 in Detroit and 12,164 in Memphis. These are rape kits that never made it to a crime lab for testing. Because historically, most law enforcement agencies have not been required to report the number of untested kits in their custody, it’s likely that the largest numbers have yet to be discovered.

THE CHALLENGE

Testing rape kits is just the first step to comprehensive reform. 

Once the problem is acknowledged and the first kits are sent out for testing, cities are left to grapple with the enormous task of finding a way to test all of the rape kits in their storage facilities, and figure out how to investigate and prosecute these cases, re-engage survivors in the process and address any systemic failures that led to the creation of the problem in the first place.

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources, and finding the money has been a struggle. 

In Detroit, which discovered its trove of untested kits in 2009, the city cobbled together money from the federal and state government to cover the cost of testing their 11,304 untested kits. Yet Detroit is still searching for funding for a dedicated team of police, prosecutors and victim advocates needed to fully investigate the DNA hits from its testing—a huge task given that in just the first 1,600 kits tested, 100 serial offenders have been identified. 

GAPS IN CURRENT FUNDING

The thousands upon thousands of rape kits sitting untested in police storage facilities across the country represent thousands of leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care and cases to prosecute. Communities simply do not have the resources necessary to make all of this possible while also responding to newly reported cases.

The City of Memphis recently announced the discovery of the largest known number of untested rape kits in police storage in the country. Desperate for funding to test their kits and prosecute offenders, officials have turned to the City Council and state government for assistance. Their search continues, however, for the resources necessary to pursue every lead from rape kit testing, conduct victim notification and provide comprehensive services to survivors connected to the untested kits.

This is why the news that the federal government is considering $35 million in dedicated funding to support communities in their work to address the untested kits in their police storage facilities and move those cases forward to prosecution is a relief to public officials committed to comprehensive reform. It is the funding they need uphold their commitment to pursue every lead from testing rape kits, reform their criminal justice response to rape, engage survivors in the process and bring offenders to justice.

THE TIME IS NOW

As states and local jurisdictions enact legislation and policies to reform law enforcement practices around rape kit testing, the need for funding to implement a multi-disciplinary response will increase. 

A growing number of states have enacted legislation or policies that require law enforcement agencies to count the untested rape kits in their custody and submit those kits for testing. Illinois, Texas, Colorado and Ohio have tracking and testing policies. This year, seven states have introduced legislation to do the same. These state laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits in police storage facilities and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute, in addition to their current cases. 

FEDERAL FUNDING CAN BRING JUSTICE TO SURVIVORS

The federal government has a key role to play in investing in justice for survivors, accountability for perpetrators and safety for America’s communities. 

Over a decade ago, Congress took a major step toward addressing untested rape kits languishing in crime labs with the creation of the Debbie Smith Act. The Act has been essential in drawing attention to this backlog, and to galvanizing lawmakers and the public to action. 

This new $35 million grant opportunity is a complement to, but different from, the Debbie Smith Act. Based on results from multi-disciplinary efforts in Detroit, Houston and other cities, this funding focuses exclusively on meeting community needs for investigation, prosecution and victim reengagement.

Funding for comprehensive rape kit reform sends a message to survivors that they—and their cases—matter. It sends a message to perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their crimes. It demonstrates a commitment to survivors to do everything possible to bring healing and justice. We urge the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate to fully fund the President’s budget request, which will effect real and significant change for survivors across the country.

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