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House of Representatives Committee Includes Full Funding for Rape Kit Reform
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today praised the House Committee on Appropriations’ inclusion of $41 million in funding for the Justice Department’s community-based sexual assault response initiative in their FY16 Commerce, Justice and Science funding bill. Joyful Heart has been at the forefront of efforts to fund this unique program, first approved by Congress last year.
“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, CEO of Joyful Heart. “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.”
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 innocent suspects. And 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.
The Department of Justice’s grant program will provide local communities resources through the Bureau of Justice Assistance 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. BJA is currently reviewing proposals for the FY15 funding.
Over the past few years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country. Because historically, most law enforcement agencies have not been required to report the number of untested kits in their custody, it’s likely that the largest numbers have yet to be discovered.
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 done anything further toward finding 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, re-engaging survivors with compassion and care, and moving cases forward to prosecution.
As a compliment to federal funding, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office (DANY) has also announced a new grant program to allow jurisdictions across the country to test previously unanalyzed rape kits. DANY awards will be for up to $2 million over a two-year period. Proposals are due on June 1, 2015 by 5:00pm ET.
For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, firstname.lastname@example.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.