Joyful Heart Foundation Nominated for $1 Million Prize from Chase to Help End National Backlog of Untested Rape Kits

September, 2011, New York — The Joyful Heart Foundation—a non-profit founded by "Law & Order: Special Victims Unit" actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, and dedicated to addressing sexual and domestic violence—was chosen out of hundreds of organizations across the country to compete for the chance to earn $1 million from Chase Community Giving. The prize would go toward the foundation's effort to end the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States.

Every year, tens of thousands of individuals report a sexual assault to the police. After an assault, victims undergo a four-to-six-hour exam to collect DNA and forensic evidence that goes into what is known as a rape kit. Today, the federal government estimates that more than 200,000 untested kits sit in storage facilities across the United States. Each kit represents lost healing and justice for survivors.

"Joyful Heart is about the courage to heal, which every survivor has," said Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart's founder and president. "We know that a crucial part of a survivor's healing is based on the reaction of his or her community, including the criminal justice system. Ending the rape kit backlog sends a powerful message to rape survivors that their cases matter and that their offenders will not escape punishment."

As part of the American Giving Awards program, each competing organization must submit a "Big Idea" about how it would use $1 million to further its work. Joyful Heart's proposal includes expanding, the only website dedicated to raising awareness about this issue; partnering with Detroit and other jurisdictions across the country to help eliminate local backlogs; and, creating replicable, victim-centered best practices, which will help foster trusting and efficient relationships between survivors and law enforcement agencies. With these additional funds, the Joyful Heart Foundation also plans to pay for testing backlogged kits that might otherwise not get tested.

"We know that the rape kit backlog is a problem that can be fixed if we work together," said Joyful Heart CEO, Maile Zambuto. "Receiving funding from Chase would be a remarkable opportunity to advance our work in this field and bring healing and justice to survivors."

As part of Joyful Heart Foundation's "Big Idea," the organization has committed to helping cities struggling with rape kit backlogs find private resources to supplement public funds for rape kit testing. For example, through a formal partnership with the city of Detroit, Joyful Heart Foundation has pledged to use a portion of the money received through the American Giving Awards to help the city test rape kits sitting untested in its storage facilities—currently more than 11,000 kits.

“On average, 2,500 cases of rape are reported in Detroit each year. More than 70 percent of rapists in my jurisdiction go unprosecuted,” said Kym Worthy, the Wayne County Prosecutor, who oversees prosecutions in the City of Detroit. “These untested kits represent over 11,000 rape victims whose lives and experiences have been sitting on a shelf, abandoned and ignored -- some for over a decade. Now we have the chance to make it right. Any funding to support our efforts would go a long way to helping us do just that.”

When New York City fixed its backlog in 2002, the arrest rate for rape skyrocketed from 40% to 70%. The city, which continues to test every kit booked into evidence, has one of the highest arrest rates for rape in the country. Among the kits tested in New York was one containing evidence from Natasha Alexenko, a survivor of sexual assault who has since gone on to found Natasha's Justice Project, an organization that is also working to eliminate rape kit backlogs.

"My rape kit sat on a shelf for a decade. When it was finally tested, I was able to see the offender brought to justice," Alexenko said. "My rape kit was never just a piece of evidence in a police department—it was the story of me being raped, and me searching for justice. I know how much it means to rape survivors to have their kits tested, and that is why I work with Joyful Heart on rape kit reform across the United States."

How You Can Help

You can help the Joyful Heart Foundation receive up to $1 million by simply "Liking" the Chase Community Giving program at: Click "Allow Access," then select the American Giving Awards tab and cast your vote to determine the finalists. If you have already "Liked" the Chase Community Application and "Allowed Access," then you only need to visit the American Giving Awards Application tab to cast your vote.

To learn more, please visit  


About the Joyful Heart Foundation

Actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 with the intention of helping survivors of sexual and domestic violence heal and reclaim their lives. Today, Joyful Heart's mission 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. Joyful Heart's vision is a community that is empowered with knowledge, courage and compassion to help survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse heal mind, body and spirit; values and dedicates resources to individuals and families that have been affected by these issues; and seeks to ignite and foster an open dialogue about how to collaboratively end the cycle of violence and abuse.

For more information about the Joyful Heart Foundation, please visit

To learn more about the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States, please visit

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