United State of Women Summit: Holding Jurisdictions Accountable for Ending the Rape Kit Backlog

On June 14, over 5,000 men and women from around the globe gathered in Washington, D.C. to discuss issues affecting women and girls. Organized by the White House, this Summit was an important moment that brought together a range of disciplines: from education and health to economic empowerment, entrepreneurship, and sexual violence.

In addition to her remarks on June 14, our Founder & President, Mariska Hargitay, released a blog post entitled "Holding Jurisdictions Accountable for the Rape Kit Backlog." Joyful Heart was honored to participate in this meaningful conversation and have the opportunity to highlight our primary advocacy priority: eliminating the untested rape kit backlog once and for all. 

Mariska Hargitay Remarks, June 14, 2016

Thank you so much. 

I cannot begin a speech today without saying how fully my heart is with the victims of the shooting in Orlando and those who hold them dear. I send you my love and my best prayers. 

I am so honored to stand here today in this room filled with driven, passionate advocates dedicated to bringing change.

Mr. Vice President, I am deeply grateful for your heroic commitment to this work, and so proud to be your ally. 

Domestic violence and sexual assault, long deemed—and devalued as—“women’s issues,” are among the most pervasive but hidden problems in society today. These issues are misunderstood, underfunded, and have existed on the margin of public priorities and concerns. 

Society continues to misplace shame and blame on survivors. 

I know we are all deeply dismayed by the case at Stanford. At the same time, I am so inspired by what the strength—and blazingly articulated courage—of one survivor can do to ignite the conversation around these issues in this country. 

The challenge we face—of uprooting deeply entrenched societal attitudes that allow these crimes to continue—is enormous.

To me, there is a no more glaring demonstration of those attitudes than the backlog of untested rape kits that sit on shelves in police storage facilities across the county. Hundreds of thousands of kits, representing survivors who deserve justice and perpetrators who deserve jail time. 

Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter. Testing rape kits also sends a message to those who perpetrate these crimes: you will be held accountable for what you did. 

For that reason, the Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority. 

We are grateful for the work that the Obama Administration and Congress have done in the last few years to shine a light on this crisis and hold jurisdictions accountable. And yet, I am also mindful that change did not start here in D.C.

It started with you. 

We learned about the scope of the backlog not from government reporting, but from the work of sexual assault survivors, victim's rights advocates, human rights researchers, and journalists.

Next, you will hear from several thought leaders who are putting their shoulders to the wheel of change in the most powerful and innovative ways. They will share with you their “Ideas for Action”: to engage men and young people in this work, to better address campus sexual assault, to encourage a new generation of advocates, to address gender based violence globally, and to help put an end to attacks on members of the transgender community. 

Deep cultural change does not happen overnight. It's going to take time. It's also going to take smart, engaged, committed, creative, determined people applying their best thinking to these issues. It's going to take enough people in enough communities deciding that they've had enough. 

At moments like this, looking out at the faces in this room, brimming with hope, bristling with determination, I know the change will come. 

With all my heart, my joyful and hopeful heart, on behalf of the survivors whose voices I'm privileged to carry with me, thank you for believing with me, for knowing with me, that we can end this violence. 

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