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Joyful Heart Foundation Celebrates Nearly $80 Million Awarded to Support Comprehensive Rape Kit Reform
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation, one of the leading advocacy organizations working toward nationwide rape kit reform, today applauded the awards of nearly $80 million in grants to address the growing backlog of untested sexual assault kits at law enforcement agencies.
At an event onstage today with Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Joyful Heart Foundation Founder and President Mariska Hargitay said, “This is the biggest investment to date to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits that we know are sitting on shelves across the United States. Today marks a historic moment in the work to end that backlog. It’s historic for jurisdictions who want to do the right thing, who now have the resources they need to test sexual assault kits and to investigate, arrest and prosecute dangerous criminals to get them off our streets. It's historic for police departments, who want to engage survivors with care, expertise and compassion. And, perhaps most importantly, it’s historic for sexual assault survivors across this country.”
Through a first-of-its-kind federal investment in the FY15 Commerce, Justice and Science spending bill last year, nearly $41 million will provide local communities with resources through the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance to support multidisciplinary community response teams engaged in the comprehensive reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to sexual assault cases. This includes testing backlogged kits; investigating and prosecuting cases connected to the backlog; and addressing the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.
An additional $38 million in grants has also been awarded through a unique new program by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which can be used to test previously unanalyzed rape kits. Joyful Heart serves as a technical advisor for this initiative.
“Focusing a national effort on comprehensive rape kit reform demonstrates a commitment to survivors that we will do everything possible to bring healing and justice,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of Joyful Heart. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters.”
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 the wrongly convicted. Yet, there are thousands upon thousands of rape kits sitting untested in police storage facilities across the country representing thousands of leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care, and cases to prosecute.
But testing rape kits is just the first step to comprehensive reform. Once the problem is acknowledged and the first kits are sent out for testing, cities are left to grapple with the enormous task of finding a way to test all of the rape kits in their storage facilities, and figuring out how to investigate and prosecute these cases, re-engage survivors in the process, and address any systemic failures that led to the creation of the problem in the first place.
This last year, 11 states took important steps toward reform – passing legislation to understand the extent of their backlog of untested kits, dedicating resources to testing kits, or some kind of mandatory submission timelines. These state laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits in police storage facilities and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.
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.