On February 13, 2018, the Joyful Heart Foundation today released Shelved, a public service announcement (PSA) highlighting the backlog of hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits languishing in law enforcement storage facilities across the United States. Through this PSA campaign, Joyful Heart is seeking to activate grassroots support for work in state capitols across the country to change the way rape kits are handled, expand survivors’ rights, and ensure every single kit is tested.
Behind every kit is a person — a sexual assault survivor — waiting for justice:
DNA evidence is an invaluable tool for investigating and solving violent crimes. Yet too often, the decision is made not to test these kits. When jurisdictions test every kit, they solve crimes, bring answers and a path to justice for survivors, take criminals off the streets, and exonerate the innocent. Testing can also reveal serial offenders: testing to date in Detroit, Cleveland and Memphis alone has identified more than 1,300 serial rapists.
“At its core, the rape kit backlog is about survivors,” said Sarah Haacke Byrd, Joyful Heart’s Managing Director. “When a person is sexually assaulted and chooses to undergo the invasive four-to-six hour evidence collection examination at the hospital, they expect the kit will be tested and the evidence used to prosecute the attacker. The public expects the same. While an unknown amount of rape kits languish untested on shelves, survivors wait for justice and perpetrators remain on the streets.”
Shelved was directed by famed filmmaker and cinematographer, Ellen Kuras. It was developed by Rachel Howald of Invisible Man in partnership with Viacom Velocity. The PSAs will begin airing today across Viacom channels, on Investigation Discovery, and online with national distribution by Boom Broadcast.
Founded by director, producer, and Emmy-award winning actress Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart has made eliminating the rape kit backlog its top advocacy priority since 2010. The PSA launch is timed at a critical juncture when legislatures across the country are considering the introduction of new legislation to address the backlog. As of Friday, 20 states had introduced at least one of our six pillars of legislative reform.
Learn more about the US rape kit backlog at endthebacklog.org.
Ed. Note: North Carolina, in which we’re based, had no tracking of untested rape kits until recently. Spurred on by a Charlotte Observer investigation, Charlotte and state-wide, police departments began auditing its shelved rape kits. According to the End The Backlog map, the North Carolina Statewide Audit is completed, 1,019 untested rap kits were found, and testing is in progress.
Unfortunately, the attention drawn to this issue brought to light that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police had discarded/destroyed sexual assault evidence rather than paying to have kits tested and rapists pursued. The number of rapists left loose, and victims left without justice, is unknown — though this 2016 Charlotte Observer news article puts that number above 1,000.
Source: Melissa Schwartz, JoyfulHeartFoundation.org