Lendon Ebbels joins the Joyful Heart Foundation as a recent graduate of McGill University, where she obtained her BA in Sociology. There, she volunteered extensively with its student-run sexual assault center, providing support and information to survivors and their allies and promoting an awareness of issues and myths surrounding sexual assault in the community as a workshop facilitator, media watch coordinator, and external representative. Lendon held two internships with Human Rights Watch, where she lent her support to efforts to end the rape kit backlog and other US-based advocacy goals.
Posts by Lendon
An extremely difficult fiscal climate in California’s government has narrowed the scope of the bill significantly since it was first introduced in the Assembly. Originally, and much like the laws recently passed in Texas (2011) and Illinois (2010), the bill would have required all jurisdictions to report on the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities on an annual basis and to test all kits in a timely manner if sufficient resources are available. The bill now limits the counting and processing of rape kits to a pilot program in the ten counties with the lowest arrest rates for sexual assault.
The bill comes after several years of news about the backlogs in numerous jurisdictions in California, including Los Angeles City and County, which once had a backlog numbered at over 12,500 untested kits. To catch up on the progress of the state of the backlog in California, be sure to read past articles on the Backlog Blog here.
A Reuters story about a man who has just pleaded guilty to an 18-year old sexual assault in New York stood out to us this week. This particular case highlights what an important tool DNA can be in identifying perpetrators of sexual assault. It’s also demonstrates that, even almost two decades later, rape kit testing can lead to justice.
In 1993, a man violently attacked and raped a woman in her Lower East Side apartment building. A rape kit collected from the victim after the crime and it was eventually tested in 2002 when New York City tested all 16,000+ rape kits that were part of its backlog.
As DNA profiles found in many of the rape kits were uploaded into the national DNA databank, called CODIS, and linked to profiles of known offenders, New York City began to see results immediately–the arrest rate for rape jumped from 40% (which was already above the national average) to 70%.
However, many rape kits–including this one from the 1993 case–yielded DNA profiles that were eligible to be uploaded into the database but that did not link to a known offender, making an arrest or conviction impossible until a matching profile from another crime could be uploaded.
In 2003 More >
Last month, we wrote about evidence contained in an untested rape kit that linked to Anthony Sowell who was, at the time, standing trial for murdering 11 women in Ohio. Sowell was convicted this week. Sentencing begins later in August.
We wanted to draw your attention to this article by Laura Strickler, an Emmy award winning journalist who produced a watershed news story on the rape kit backlog in the United States in 2009. In her coverage of the outcome of the trial on CBS News, she summarizes the numerous missed opportunities for the Cleveland and Cleveland Heights Police Departments to apprehend Sowell, a registered sex offender and subject of numerous reports of sexual assault. In one of those cases, police and prosecutors deemed the victim to be a “not credible” witness. In another, though police collected a rape kit, the responding officer allegedly failed to tell the special victims detective about the evidence and the case went cold. And as the article reports, like many jurisdictions across the United States, the Cleveland Heights Police Department did not have a computerized system for tracking rape kits.
The lessons learned form this case are many, but they came at a devastatingly high cost. The Cleveland Heights PD More >
In an op-ed published in the Boston Herald this week, Linda Fairstein responds to the “untrue and absurd” arguments of opponents of testing the backlog of rape kits in the United States. Fairstein is a best-selling novelist, the Vice-Chair of Joyful Heart’s Board of Directors and for more than 25 years, was the chief prosecutor for the Manhattan District Attorney’s Sex Crimes Unit.
The fact that there are estimated to be almost a quarter of a million untested rape evidence collection kits collecting dust in police department warehouses across this country remains a national embarrassment. The movement to eliminate this backlog and process the evidence for DNA testing to identify violent offenders is gaining supporters, although opposed by naysayers who are ignorant of the facts of what sexual assault survivors achieve in the criminal justice system when they are backed by the powerfully effective tool of a DNA identification.
From 1976 until 2002, I was the prosecutor in charge of the country’s pioneering Sex Crimes Unit in the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, and among the first lawyers to be introduced to the revolutionary science of genetic fingerprinting in 1986, three years before it was accepted by our courts. When the first data banks became operational More >
Last week, Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation and Sarah Tofte, Joyful Heart’s Director of Policy & Advocacy, along with Annette Burrhus-Clay, Executive Director of the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, wrote an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle urging Texas lawmakers to pass legislation that calls for all rape kits to be counted and tested.
The bill would require law enforcement to inventory and report the number of untested rape kits in their storage facilities by October 2011 and to send all backlogged kits for testing by 2012. In addition, every new rape kit would be sent to a crime lab within 30 days of being booked into police evidence.
Testing kits helps bring perpetrators to justice and sends rapists the message that they will be held accountable for their crimes. And significantly, testing sends rape victims the clear, compassionate and vital message that their cases and their lives matter.
After a victim goes through an exam and agrees to have the kit turned over to the police, the logical assumption is that the evidence collected will be sent to a crime lab for testing. Why else would so much effort, time and extreme discomfort go into collecting the evidence?
But More >