New White House Grant Program Offers Resources, Proven Solutions to End the Rape Kit Backlog

For Immediate Release:
Wednesday, March 5, 2014  
Contact: Melissa Schwartz: 212.475.2026, melissa.schwartz@bromwichgroup.com

NEW YORK – President Obama’s FY15 budget provides communities with the most significant federal support yet to aid their efforts to address their rape kit backlogs, the Joyful Heart Foundation noted today in support of a new federal initiative.

In his FY15 budget proposal, President Obama has—for the first time—allocated $35 million in dedicated funding to end the nationwide rape kit backlog at local law enforcement agencies. This new grant, housed within the Department of Justice, will provide local communities 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.

“President Obama’s budget allocation will provide cities across the country with the vital resources they need to help put an end to the rape kit backlog and provide greater access to justice and healing for survivors,” said Sarah Tofte, Vice President of Policy and Advocacy at the Joyful Heart Foundation. “In our work with mayors, police and prosecutors around the nation, we find public officials committed to this work yet struggling to find the resources to enact the comprehensive reform they want and need. This funding provides the way forward they have been searching for.”

Rape kit evidence—DNA collected from the body of a sexual assault victim in the immediate aftermath of the crime—is a powerful investigative tool. It can identify an unknown assailant and confirm the presence of a known suspect. It can affirm the survivor's account of the attack and discredit the suspect. It can connect the suspect to other crime scenes. It can exonerate innocent suspects. Cities across the nation have begun to witness the powerful results that come from testing the rape kits in their custody. In a jurisdiction like New York City, with a long-standing policy to test every rape kit booked into police evidence, the arrest rate for rape skyrocketed from 40 percent to 70 percent once mandatory rape kit testing was implemented. When Detroit tested its first 1600 kits, it found 87 serial rapists, and linked rape kits to crimes in 21 states and the District of Columbia.

Yet, experts have estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police storage facilities across the country, in what is known as the rape kit backlog. In the last several years, backlogs have been discovered in various cities and states: 20,000 in Texas, 12,669 in Los Angeles, 4,000 in Illinois, 12,164 in Memphis, 5,523 in Ohio, and 11,304 in Detroit.

Rape kit testing represents just the first step of reform. Once a backlog is acknowledged and the first kits are sent out for testing, cities are left to grapple with the enormous task of not just finding a way to test all of their rape kits in the backlog, but also 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 backlog in the first place.

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources, and up until now, finding the money has been a struggle. Cities like Detroit and Memphis, which have made a commitment to comprehensive rape kit reform, have turned to city and state governments to pay for the cost of testing our rape kits, but our search continues for the funding necessary to pursue every lead from rape kit testing, conduct victim notification, and provide comprehensive services to survivors connected to the backlog. 

“The rape kit backlog is one of the most tangible demonstrations of the gaps in our response to sexual violence. The good news is that cities and states around the nation have embarked on the process of reforming their backlogs—and their criminal justice response to rape,” added Tofte. “With this new funding option, President Obama’s budget helps give communities the money they need to get the job done.”

For more information, go to ENDTHEBACKLOG.org, Joyful Heart’s website on the rape kit backlog.

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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.

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