Senate Recesses Without Funding Rape Kit Reform

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today spoke out against politics in the U.S. Congress that has stalled new, critical funding to address the nation’s rape kit backlog. As the Senate adjourns this week, it is expected to pass a continuing resolution to fund the government without providing for new programs, including $41 million for a new community-based sexual assault response initiative in Congress’ Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies FY15 spending bill. 

This funding has been approved by the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate Appropriations Committee to address the rape kit backlog in police storage facilities. This Justice Department allocation provides local communities resources to: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities; 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.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, led by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, has been a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need to process, investigate and prosecute rape kits found in police storage facilities across the country. For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to www.ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.

Below is a statement from Sarah Tofte, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, Joyful Heart Foundation:

“Six years ago, police, prosecutors, survivors, and advocates asked Congress to address the hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits estimated to be sitting in police storage facilities across the country—what is often referred to as the rape kit backlog. We were motivated by the magnitude of the problem, and what the rape kit backlog symbolized—perpetrators who got away with the crimes, and survivors who were denied justice. 

“We were also aware of how essential testing rape kit evidence can be for strengthening rape investigations, and moving more rape cases farther through the criminal justice system. DNA evidence contained in a rape kit can identify unknown assailants, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, connect the suspect to other unsolved crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects. 

“Despite our pleas six years ago—and every year since—Congress did not act. Since that time, dozens of cities and states across the country have acknowledged that they are struggling with a rape kit backlog in their police departments. 

“And in those cities that have embraced the value of testing every kit in their rape kit backlog, the results have been astounding. In Detroit, which had 11,000 untested rape kits, testing of the first 1,600 has identified 127 potential serial rapists, and linked perpetrators to crimes committed in 23 additional states. In Memphis, which has 12,000 backlogged rape kits, DNA results from just the first 475 tested kits have led the police department to open 162 investigations and secure 22 indictments. In Cleveland, which has tested 2,326 of its 3,985 backlogged kits, police have found nearly 1,000 matches in the national DNA database, resulting in 324 new investigations and 169 criminal indictments. 

“As these cities commit to comprehensive rape kit reforms, they are also forced to grapple with mobilizing the resources necessary to fully investigate each lead, bring forward prosecutions, and re-engage survivors in the criminal justice process. City leaders and law enforcement officials are piecing together the money they need, wherever they can find it—from city and state budgets, from private foundations, and from the donations of private citizens. 

“They are also looking to Congress for help with the vital resources they need to support city efforts to test, investigate, and prosecute rape cases in the backlog. This 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.

“In the six years since we began asking Congress for help, the pace of rape kit reform has been exponential, and so many of us—mayors, police chiefs, district attorneys, victim advocates, state legislators, and governors—are doing all we can to end the backlog. Isn’t it time that Congress did?”

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The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. 

Media Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@endthebacklog.org
-September 19th, 2014

 

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