Federal Responses

"If we are able to test these rape kits, more crimes will be solved, more crimes will be prevented, and more women will be given back their lives...testing rape kits should be an absolute priority for the United States of America: It works, it matters, it brings closure, it brings justice and that's why we're here." - Vice President Joe Biden

Federal Funding for Rape Kit Reform

For the first time in 2014, President Obama’s budget proposal included dedicated funding for a grant program to provide communities across the country with the vital resources they need—and are asking for—to develop and implement comprehensive, multi-disciplinary rape kit reform. These are funds to: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities that never made it to a crime lab; 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. Congress approved the federal spending bill and included $41 million for Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grants within the Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA). 

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 as they awarded both the federal funds and grants from the Manhattan District Attorney’s office – nearly $80 million in funding for more than 40 law enforcement agencies in 20 states to address their backlogs of untested rape kits. Joyful Heart’s announcement, Mariska’s remarks and the list of recipients is available here.

Joyful Heart Foundation is proud to be part of a team that was selected by the Bureau of Justice Assistance to provide training and technical assistance to the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grantees as they work to end their backlog of untested kits, investigate the resulting cases, prosecute the offenders and re-engage survivors on the justice process. 

President Obama has again included $41 million in his FY16 budget request. This funding will build on the efforts of the BJA grant program, and will allow even more jurisdictions to address their rape kit backlogs, apprehend perpetrators and bring justice to survivors. In June 2015, the House of Representatives passed its FY16 spending bill for the Department of Justice, which includes an additional $4 million thanks to an amendment by Representatives Steve Cohen and Carolyn Mahoney. The Senate Appropriations Committee has included $41 million in their FY16 bill, but the full Senate has yet to consider the bill.

Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Reduction Grants

In 2004, Congress passed the Debbie Smith Act, which provides grants to eligible states and local governments for several purposes, including training and education programs for law enforcement, correctional personnel and court officers, training and education programs for sexual assault forensic examiners, testing backlogged DNA evidence—including rape kits—and increasing the capacity of state and local crime labs to conduct DNA testing. The Act also provides funding for jurisdictions that outsource DNA evidence to private crime labs for testing.

The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act

The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act, passed by Congress as part of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, amends the Debbie Smith grant program to require that 75% of the funds (up from 40%) be used directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence or enhancing the capacity of labs to do so. The SAFER Act also provides state and local governments with funding to conduct one-year audits of the untested rape kits in their possession. NIJ is currently working on implementing the SAFER Act.

National Institute of Justice Research Grants

The National Institute of Justice (NIJ), the research arm of the Department of Justice, has provided millions of dollars in direct grants to accredited public crime labs through its DNA Backlog Reduction Program. Eligible states and local governments may request funds from NIJ to increase the capacity of their existing crime labs to analyze DNA samples more efficiently. Eligible applicants may also request funds to handle, screen and analyze backlogged DNA evidence. For more information, click here.

In 2011, NIJ also awarded action-research grants to Wayne County, Michigan, which includes Detroit, and Houston, Texas to convene multidisciplinary teams to study the causes of the backlog and develop and implement a plan for testing. There were more than 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit and approximately 6,600 in Houston. A report on those findings by Dr. Rebecca Campbell is available here.

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