Through our advocacy programs, Joyful Heart seeks healing and justice for survivors of violence and abuse. We work in partnership at the federal, state and local levels, and with non-profit organizations, law enforcement, advocates and survivors to bring attention, funding and reforms to improve the criminal justice response to sexual violence.

Since 2010, we’ve made the elimination of the rape kit backlog—hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country—our top advocacy priority. The rape kit backlog represents a failure of the criminal justice system to protect survivors and to hold perpetrators accountable. Testing rape kits sends the message that we take sexual assault seriously—that survivors and their cases matter. Not testing rape kits sends the opposite message. 

Eliminating the backlog of untested rape kits is a cornerstone to improving our nation’s criminal justice response to sexual violence. The Joyful Heart Foundation is at the forefront of this work:

  • Identifying, investigating and auditing untested rape kit backlogs;
  • Securing federal, state and municipal funds to test backlogged kits;
  • Developing and advocating for a national policy agenda to address the systemic issues that led to the backlog; 
  • Advocating for state laws that mandate testing of all backlogged kits and new kits; 
  • Advising jurisdictions working to eliminate their backlogs of untested rape kits on the implementation of survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies and protocols for victim notification; and
  • Working with jurisdictions to assist them in the development and implementation of survivor-centered reforms.

In September 2015, Joyful Heart Founder & President Mariska Hargitay stood beside Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr., as they awarded both the federal funds and grants from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office—nearly $80 million in funding for more than 40 law enforcement agencies in 20 states to address their backlogs of untested rape kits. 

Please visit our nationally recognized site,, to learn more about our efforts to identify and articulate the nature and extent of the rape kit backlog nationwide. You will find an interactive map displaying information on where the backlog exists and where reforms are being made, an extensive media and resource archive, and integrated blogs with relevant updates and commentary. 


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