For decades, hundreds of thousands of rape kits have gone untested, meaning that hundreds of thousands of crimes have gone unsolved, victims have been denied justice, and perpetrators have gone undetected. Sexual assault survivors—and the general public—deserve better.
End The Backlog is an initiative of the Joyful Heart Foundation dedicated to this crisis. Since 2010, we have maintained one clear, ambitious goal: to eliminate the existing backlog of untested rape kits across the United States and prevent a backlog from ever happening again.
Achieving this goal requires communities to come together to confront the reality of how sexual assault cases are handled. It means bringing all of the stakeholders—federal, state, and local governments; law enforcement professionals; prosecutors; forensic analysts; victim advocates; survivors; and others—to the table to evaluate existing processes and institute new requirements for the handling of sexual assault cases. Fundamentally, it requires a meaningful cultural shift in criminal justice institutions nationwide: toward survivor-centric, trauma-informed practices that prioritize the needs of survivors throughout the criminal justice process. The system should be transparent, accountable, and respectful of survivors’ needs.
We started this work in 2010 in partnership with the few cities engaged in reform, most notably Detroit. At the time, there was no comprehensive, best practice approach for rape kit reform. Lessons learned from this early work showed the effectiveness of a multidisciplinary team approach, and, from there, we developed best practices that have served as a model nationally for jurisdictions tackling reform. These best practices have since been validated by new federal guidelines and led to groundbreaking research.
Through this early work, we also came to understand that real, sustainable change requires going beyond individual institutional reform and engaging in whole systems change. Over time, leadership can change, and practices may slip away from what is written in policy. To ensure that a backlog never develops again, laws must change in every state to codify these best practices.
Our work today is focused on 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 are currently working toward this goal through several major initiatives:
- Legislative campaign. We are leading a multi-year, nationwide advocacy campaign to secure policy wins that will effectively eliminate the backlog and ensure that newly collected rape kits are tested in a timely manner.
- Federal advocacy. We advocate for continued support of the federal Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grants and other critical grant programs on Capitol Hill.
- Accountability and transparency. Working with our pro bono partner Goodwin LLP, The Accountability Project has issued public records requests to law enforcement agencies and crime labs in 49 jurisdictions. So far, we have uncovered nearly 40,000 untested rape kits in 41 jurisdictions and brought to light the lack of consistent policies and procedures regarding the handling of rape kits.
- Training and technical assistance. When jurisdictions move forward with clearing their backlogs, we provide guidance and expertise on best practices, including how to re-engage survivors whose kits went untested for years or even decades.
- Education and awareness. We work to engage the general public, using media coverage, our website, and social media platforms for public education and grassroots advocacy efforts.
- Research. We conduct groundbreaking research to meet the needs of the field, monitor developments in external academic research, identify innovative strategies and data analysis from jurisdictions across the country, and disseminate findings from all of these sources into policy and practice for the broader community.
Our unique approach has enabled us to galvanize support for rape kit reform, strengthening and steering the growing reform movement across the country. These efforts have activated a significant online network of grassroots supporters, who are sparking further change by reaching out to stakeholders and elected officials in their communities.