Rape Kit Backlog Efforts Reach the White House

President Barack Obama, joined by Vice President Joe Biden, speaks at a Violence Against Women awareness event in the East Room of the White House, Oct. 27 2010. (Official White House Photo by Chuck Kennedy)

On October 27th, as part of a White House event to Commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the federal government was increasing its efforts to end the rape kit backlog in the United States by funding pilot projects throughout the country to help jurisdictions eliminate their rape kit backlog.

It was an important moment, and I was lucky to get to be a part of it, sitting in the East Room of the White House as Vice President Biden made the announcement. Sitting three rows from the Vice President and President Barack Obama, who both made remarks, I was full of gratitude for an administration that is deeply committed to ending violence against women and girls.

Listening to the President and Vice President, I was filled with gratitude for how this administration is using its power to address sexual and domestic violence, and to shed light into the darkness of these issues. As Mariska Hargitay, Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, who was at the event, expressed to the press afterwards, “I know I speak for the many thousands of survivors, whose hope for healing I carry with me, when I tell you how grateful and encouraged I am to see the conversation about these issues elevated to this level. “

The rape kit pilot project announced last week is a response to the news over the past several years of the discovery of tens of thousands of untested rape kits in police storage facilities throughout the country. Recognizing the need to fix the problem, but also the reality that the causes and consequences of rape kit backlogs has not been comprehensively studied, the federal government decided to tackle the problem with pilot projects centered around a research component. The project will be run by the National Institute of Justice, which describes the project this way:

NIJ seeks to better understand why so many sexual assault kits are not forwarded from police evidence rooms to crime labs for DNA testing and to develop innovative approaches to solve the problem.

NIJ will award up to $200,000 to each of up to five sites to create an “action-research” partnership to explore the problem and come up with solutions. Each site—a state or local government with a minimum of 500 untested sexual assault kits that have not been sent to a crime lab—will form a team to include a criminal-justice researcher and representatives from the police department, crime lab, prosecutor’s office, and a community-based victim services organization. The teams will first audit their cases to determine why the sexual assault kits were not sent to the lab, then develop a plan to tackle the problem.

In phase 2 of the project, NIJ intends to award up to a total of $4 million to the sites to implement their plans.

This pilot project offers an unprecedented opportunity for jurisdictions to get full federal support to eliminate their rape kit backlog. It also promises to produce essential research to determine what works best when it comes to rape kit testing policies. We encourage all interested jurisdictions to apply.

Here is the link to the NIJ solicitation: http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/nij/topics/forensics/sexual-assault-kits.htm.

This pilot project is a turning point in how the federal government deals with rape kit backlogs. It is of a piece with this administration’s work to address domestic and sexual violence. As Mariska noted, after the White House event, “Let us all move forward with the confidence that we will look back at this moment as a turning point in this movement, a moment fueled by our collective courage that shines brightly with the light of hope and the promise of healing.”

To watch the announcement, follow this link:

VP Biden on Rape Kit Backlog Elimination Pilot Program

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