Joyful Heart in the News

Congress Moves Forward on Rape-Kit Funding

June 5, 2014
Ms. Magazine
James Hildebrand

The U.S. Senate subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies showed its support this week for combating the backlog of untested rape kits by including $41 million in its 2015 fiscal year spending bill as part of a community-based sexual assault response reform initiative. This announcement comes on the heels of an earlier House of Representatives decision to allocate the same amount, up from the previously suggested $36 million, towards improving community responses to sexual assault. Long-overdue reform is finally on the horizon.

Ms. has been covering the rape-kit backlog since its Winter 2009 issue, when Human Rights Watch released a report placing the national number of backlogged rape kits at more than 400,000. When a kit is backlogged, collected DNA samples go untested. Undergoing a rape examination following a sexual assault is already a traumatic process; failing to test the DNA afterwards represents a deep betrayal of survivors who put their faith in the justice system to do its job. Beyond failing survivors on an individual level, backlogging kits also forfeits the critical opportunity to identify repeat offenders and prevent them from acting again. When police in Detroit began processing more than 11,000 backlogged kits found in an abandoned storage facility in 2009, they discovered 100 serial rapists among the first 1,600 kits.

In recent years, organizations like ENDTHEBACKLOG, a program of Law and Order: SVU star Mariska Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation, have worked to end this crisis, advocating nationwide for rape-kit reform. These groups have played a central role in raising awareness and initiating the reform process, and the most recent budgetary allocation could be critical in solving what Memphis, Tenn., Mayor A C Wharton, Jr. told MSNBC’s Ronan Farrow is “a money question.”


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