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Joyful Heart Foundation Welcomes President Obama’s Inclusion of $41 Million for Rape Kit Reform in Budget Request
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation expressed its gratitude to President Obama for including $41 million in funding for the U.S. Department of Justice’s community-based sexual assault response initiative in the budget proposal released today. This initiative provides local communities the 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 federal government’s investment in rape kit reform continues to send the message to survivors that they – and their experiences – matter,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Joyful Heart’s Chief Executive Officer. “We are so grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and leaders in Congress for recognizing the urgency of this issue, and for offering leadership, resources and research to fix the problem, making the reduction and elimination of the nationwide rape kit backlog a priority.”
Joyful Heart has been a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need to address their backlogs of rape kits. In September 2015, Joyful Heart Founder and President Mariska Hargitay stood beside Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. as they awarded nearly $80 million in funding to more than 40 law enforcement agencies in 20 states to address their backlogs of untested rape kits.
In 2015 alone, 11 states passed laws requiring sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory submission guidelines. Numerous other states have begun the process in 2016. These laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases. As states and local jurisdictions enact legislation and policies to reform law enforcement practices around rape kit testing, the need for funding to implement a multi-disciplinary response will increase.
While some jurisdictions are leading the way toward comprehensive rape kit reform, there is still much work to be done. Many cities have not counted the untested kits in their custody. Others that have acknowledged backlogs have not taken meaningful action to find a solution. Those cities that do have the will to commit to eliminating their backlogs often lack the resources necessary to do so, and testing kits is just the first step toward healing for survivors, accountability for perpetrators, and safety for our communities. Jurisdictions must also commit to investigating and following up on leads generated by testing DNA evidence, re-engaging survivors with compassion and care, and moving cases forward to prosecution.
The President and Congress have thus far approved a total of $86 million for this unique program. These federal funds will provide much-needed support for communities as they work to end their backlogs and secure justice for survivors.
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.