Addresses First Briefing of New Task Force to End Sexual Violence
By Melissa Schwartz, endthebacklog.org
On June 16, 2017, Director, Producer, Actress, and President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, Mariska Hargitay, testified on Capitol Hill — before the new Task Force to End Sexual Violence — about the national rape kit backlog.
Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation has made eliminating the rape kit backlog its top advocacy priority since 2010, and was the leading advocate in support of the federal government’s creation of the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) in 2014. SAKI provides local communities with critically needed resources to: supplement efforts to test backlogged kits in law enforcement facilities; create multidisciplinary 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. To date, Congress has awarded $131 million in SAKI grants to 25 states.
“The impact of SAKI grants cannot be overstated. We have heard from law enforcement and prosecutors that the funds are bringing communities together like never before. These focused resources are helping law enforcement take serial criminals off the street, easing the burden on personnel, facilitating community engagement, and making communities safer. We have heard the same feedback from victim advocates—SAKI funds are helping agencies already stretched thin to implement reform to support survivors through the criminal justice process and healing journey.”
DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. There are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. We cannot know the true extent of the backlog because federal agencies and most state governments do not require police departments to count or track the kits in their possession.
Joyful Heart has developed a national campaign to pass comprehensive rape kit reform legislation in all 50 states by 2020. To date, 30 states have enacted some type of reform law and last week, Texas became the first state in the nation to enact all six pillars of reform recommended by Joyful Heart and leaders in this field.
Chaired by US Representatives Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), Jackie Speier (D-CA), and David Joyce (R-OH), the Task Force to End Sexual Violence unites a diverse group of Members of Congress to advocate for legislation to support victims and their families, educate communities to prevent violence, and implement solutions to end sexual assault. The Task Force’s areas of focus include: K-12 education, campus sexual violence, the rape kit backlog, military sexual trauma, improved data and collection, online harassment, and law enforcement training. Today’s briefing was its first.
Hargitay was also in town to attend the DC premiere of her new film, the HBO documentary I AM EVIDENCE, at the AFI Docs Film Festival. Through survivor accounts, I AM EVIDENCE explores the hundreds of thousands of rape kits left untested in police storage facilities. As the film’s lead social action campaign partner, Joyful Heart is working to leverage this moment as a catalyst for meaningful reform and grassroots activism. Hargitay introduced the film and participated in a post-screening Q&A. She said:
“What mattered most to me in making I AM EVIDENCE was bringing survivor stories into the light and giving them the space to tell their truths. The stories of strength, courage and resilience shook me, moved me, and inspired me deeply. And the process of making this film gave me a far more complete understanding of the impact the backlog has on survivors of sexual assault and the effect of a flawed criminal justice system that left their rape kits untested and their cases unresolved.”
Joyful Heart has created the premier national resource about the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.
The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. www.joyfulheartfoundation.org