For the first time, the White House has dedicated funding that will provide cities across the country with the vital resources they need to help end the nationwide rape kit backlog.
Yesterday's report on sexual assault from the White House demonstrates the Administration's deep commitment to ending sexual violence and improving the responses of our government, our criminal justice system, our schools and our communities, but also identifies that there is still a great deal of work to be done.
When the team at Joyful Heart began gathering data for the new interactive map on endthebacklog.org, illustrating everything we know about the rape kit backlog, we worried that the map might be a bit bare. Looking now at the final version of the map, the results are actually very powerful.
The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) estimates there are 20,000 untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities across the state, according to a January, 3, 2013 article in The New York Times.
The Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry (SAFER) Act received unanimous support and passed out of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee last week. The bipartisan bill would provide state and local governments with funding to conduct one-year audits of the untested sexual assault evidence in their possession and create a national registry to help track those audits. The SAFER Act would also amend current law to require that a greater percentage of Debbi Smith Act grant money is spent directly on analyzing untested DNA evidence.
Along with other survivor advocacy organizations, including the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN), the National Alliance to End Sexual Violence (NAESV), the National Organization for Victim Assistance (NOVA), Healing Exists After Rape Trauma (HEART) and the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TAASA), Joyful Heart supports the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Registry Act of 2012 (SAFER Act), S.3250. The SAFER Act, sponsored by Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), will help state and local law enforcement agencies to end both crime lab and police storage rape kit backlogs.
FBI Director Robert Mueller has announced that the agency will update its definition of rape, taking effect in the spring of 2012. The FBI currently defines rape as the “carnal knowledge of a female forcibly and against her will.” As we have noted before, experts consider this definition to be too narrow, and it leads to the under-reporting of thousands of sexual assaults across the U.S. each year.
During a 2010 audit of the Detroit crime lab, which was shut down in 2008 due to testing irregularities, officials discovered approximately 11,000 untested rape kits in Detroit storage facilities. Following the discovery, a collaborative team of law enforcement officials, prosecutors, researchers and victim advocates came together to work toward eliminating the backlog.
After a decades-long campaign by women’s rights advocates, the FBI recently announced that it would revise the definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Written more than 80 years ago, the current definition is problematic for several reasons.
Supporters sign over 400 letters calling for comprehensive, compassionate and victim-centered rape kit reform.