Sarah Tofte comes to Joyful Heart with ten years of experience working on criminal justice responses to sexual and domestic violence. Her area of expertise is on the rape kit backlog in the United States, and she has significant experience engaging policymakers, non-profits and the media on issues of violence against women. Before starting at Joyful Heart, Sarah was at Human Rights Watch.
Posts by Sarah
We just received the incredible news from Texas that Governor Rick Perry has signed a bill into law that makes Texas the second state in the country, after Illinois, to pass significant rape kit reform. The new law, which takes effect September 1, requires all jurisdictions to count and report all untested kits and requires the Department of Public Safety to develop a plan to test every one of them.
Having this legislation passed in Texas represents an enormous milestone in the movement to end the backlog of untested rape kits. A groundswell for reform is happening. We hope that in the coming year, state legislators from around the country will be inspired by the work of their counterparts in Texas and Illinois. Texas has shown that it is possible to enact rape kit reform, giving survivors of sexual assault and their loved ones the opportunity for healing and justice that rape kit testing brings.
You can read more of our coverage of this process here on the Backlog Blog and our op-ed from last month urging the passage of the bill in the Houston Chronicle. We will keep you updated as there is more news about this historic event.More >
Polly Poskin, Executive Director of the Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault, took some time to speak with me about her work to end sexual violence in Illinois, the progress on there on the rape kit backlog and the culture of violence against women. Her words were incredibly informed and powerful and this transcript hardly seems to do them justice. We are pleased to be sharing this interview with you today.
Sarah Tofte: Polly, thank you very much for taking the time to speak with me today. Let’s talk a bit about how you got interested in working on violence against women issues.
Polly Poskin: In college, I focused on women’s history for my graduate degree. That was a time when we were learning about the women’s movement. So much of the focus was improving access to education, improving employment opportunities and expanding daycare. And we got into reproductive rights. Our women’s movement focused on educational opportunities for women, equal pay, child-bearing and child-caring issues and the right of a woman to control her body. We never talked about domestic violence and rape. I wasn’t aware of those More >
This is last installment of my three-part interview with bestselling crime novelist, former Sex Crimes Unit chief prosecutor of the New York County District Attorney and advocate for rape kit reform, Linda Fairstein. Be sure to read the other two installments here and here.
Sarah Tofte: Back to the question of your career path and how you came to be a writer. What is it that gives you the ability to imagine the world to be different than it currently is?
Linda Fairstein: People always assume because I’ve done this work for so long that I must be a dark person. I’m very much an optimist, and I’m very upbeat. My work primarily is not with offenders and the bad guys and the perpetrators, it’s with people who’ve experienced the worst trauma you can have in a criminal setting. To be part of that solution in the early days and to this minute of being able to give them something, to know that there was a way to restore their dignity and to do it with compassion, that was what kept me there for a very long term.
Now when I went to college, my dream was to write–to become a writer–and I went to a More >
They say to write about what you know and Linda Fairstein, the former New York County District Attorney Special Victims Unit Chief Prosecutor certainly knows the subjects that she fills her pages with. In this part of our interview, continued from our post on Friday, Fairstein talks to me about the evolution of the rape kit, what it was like to be prosecuting cases as the science around DNA was beginning to take hold and her thoughts on the backlog of untested rape kits.
Sarah Tofte: So, I know that rape kits were around slightly before DNA testing became available.
Linda Fairstein: Yes.
ST: Could you talk a little bit about this? One thing I find very interesting in general about the backlog, which I’ll get to, is the amount of care that has gone into evolving the rape kits so that they keep up with technology, what we’re learning from the criminal justice system and what we need from it. Sometimes there’s a bit of a disconnect between how much care has gone into creating a process of integrity and quality of evidence, efficiency in collection and compassion and care for the victim and what happens after–for it to just then sit More >
I recently had a chance to sit down with bestselling crime novelist, former Sex Crimes Unit chief prosecutor of the New York County District Attorney and staunch advocate for rape kit reform, Linda Fairstein. Despite her non-stop schedule around the March 1st paperback release of HELL GATE, Linda was able to provide me with a thoroughly fascinating account of what it was like to lead the New York County District Attorney Sex Crimes prosecution unit for 26 years, her well-informed thoughts on rape kit reform and insight into how she sits down to write her best-selling novels. This is the first of our three-part interview. Be sure to check back over the coming days for the rest.
Sarah Tofte: Thank you for taking the time to talk today me today. First of all, I would love to learn why you became a prosecutor.
Linda Fairstein: It was a very different time, as many women know from their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. There were many professions that were closed to women in those days. I went to Vassar College and I was the last all-women’s class. I went there because it had a fabulous liberal arts education and the English Department was very strong. More >