Joyful Heart Foundation Celebrates $13 Million Awarded to Support Comprehensive Rape Kit Reform
Released by Melissa Schwartz, joyfulheartfoundation.org
The Joyful Heart Foundation, one of the leading advocacy organizations working toward nationwide rape kit reform, today applauded awards by the federal government of more than $13 million in grants to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits at law enforcement agencies.
“We are grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the congressional leaders who continue to make ending the rape kit backlog a priority. Focusing a national effort on comprehensive reform demonstrates a commitment to survivors that we will do everything possible to bring healing and justice,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of Joyful Heart. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters.”
DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, reveal serial offenders, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. 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.
This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources. This is the second year that the federal government has invested dollars – through the Justice Department’s new Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) – to provide local communities with resources to support multidisciplinary community response teams engaged in the comprehensive reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to sexual assault cases. This includes testing backlogged kits; investigating and prosecuting cases connected to the backlog; and addressing the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.
Testing rape kits is just the first step to comprehensive reform. Once the problem is acknowledged and the first kits are sent for testing, cities are left with the enormous task of finding a way to test all of the rape kits in their storage facilities, and 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 problem in the first place.
“Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States,” added Sarah Haacke Byrd, Joyful Heart’s Managing Director. “We remain committed to working with jurisdictions who are ready to engage in true, meaningful and survivor-centered reform.”
Joyful Heart serves as a technical advisor for SAKI grantees, with a focus on victim notification. Given the lack of scholarly research examining and suggesting best practices for victim notification, Joyful Heart and partner Dr. Courtney Ahrens brought together more than 90 survivors and criminal justice, medical, academic, clinical and advocacy professionals to establish a set of best practice recommendations for victim notification. The result, Navigating Notification, helps jurisdictions working to eliminate their backlogs of untested rape kits to create survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies and protocols for victim notification.
In the last two years, 21 states passed laws requiring sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory submission guidelines. These laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.
Joyful Heart has created the only national resource on 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.
Ed. Note: The Official Department of Justice release is included below, as it includes additional funding details.
Office of Justice Programs Awards Over $38 Million to Expand Sexual Assault Kit Testing
The Office of Justice Programs’ Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) today announced awards totaling more than $38 million to help state, tribal and local government agencies to process sexual assault kits in law enforcement custody that have not been submitted to forensic laboratories.
Funded under BJA’s National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, this program provides funding to support a community-based comprehensive approach to inventory and test kits that were housed in law enforcement storage rooms or other facilities that have never been submitted to the lab for testing. The program also enables jurisdictions to assign personnel to pursue leads and criminal investigations based on evidence discovered through kit testing, as well as to develop evidence-based tracking systems and train law enforcement on sexual assault investigations. Further, grantees can use the funds to conduct research on outcomes in sexual assault cases and increase collection of DNA that may lead to identification of serial sex offenders.
“Reducing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive, evidence-based and community-supported approach to resolve,” said Director Denise O’Donnell of the Bureau of Justice Assistance. “These grants provide resources and improve processes to test kits, provide training to law enforcement personnel and improve the justice system while providing justice and resolution to the victims of sexual assault.”
In FY 2016, BJA made 19 grant awards totaling $25 million to state, local and tribal jurisdictions in support of new efforts to improve the processing of sexual assault kits and improve their capacity to act on evidence resulting from these efforts. BJA also made seven supplemental awards totaling over $6 million to grantees that received National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative awards in previous years to help them continue their efforts to address the challenges surrounding the processing of untested sexual assault kits.
An additional $5 million was awarded to Research Triangle Institute (located in RTP/Durham, North Carolina) to provide training and technical assistance to the grantees in the development and implementation of sexual assault kit submission, tracking and investigation processes. BJA provided $2 million to the National Institute of Justice to support evaluation of the programs funded by the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative.
For a complete monetary and geographical breakdown of the grants awarded under this program, visit this link.
The Office of Justice Programs (OJP), headed by Assistant Attorney General Karol V. Mason, provides federal leadership in developing the nation’s capacity to prevent and control crime, administer justice, and assist victims. OJP has six bureaus and offices: the Bureau of Justice Assistance; the Bureau of Justice Statistics; the National Institute of Justice; the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention; the Office for Victims of Crime, and the Office of Sex Offender Sentencing, Monitoring, Apprehending, Registering and Tracking (SMART).
More information about OJP and its components can be found at www.ojp.gov.