U.S. Senate Committee Approves $41 Million for Rape Kit Reform
For Immediate Release: June 11, 2015
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation today praised the Senate Committee on Appropriations’ inclusion of $41 million in funding for the Justice Department’s community-based sexual assault response initiative in its 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, Joyful Heart’s Chief Executive Officer. “Focusing a national effort on comprehensive rape kit reform demonstrates a commitment to survivors that we will do everything possible to bring healing and justice.”
Over the past several years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country. These are rape kits that never made it to a crime lab for testing.
More than 20 state legislatures have passed laws, have bills pending or are drafting legislation that requires sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory kit submission timelines. These state laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits in police storage facilities and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.
This community-based sexual assault response initiative at the Justice Department 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. The House of Representatives approved $45 million for the same program earlier this month.
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.
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.
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.