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 >
Following a disclosure by Cuyahoga County prosecutors that an untested rape kit linked to a serial-killing suspect, Ohio’s Attorney General Mike DeWine has called for a statewide protocol based on best practices of how rape case evidence should be handled and tested. He will be forming an 11-member Sexual Assault Kit Testing Commission to produce the “Ohio Model Sexual Assault Kit Testing Guide.”
In 2009, the Cleveland Heights Police Department took custody of the rape kit, which contained DNA evidence left on a victim’s body following a sexual assault, but it was never sent out to a crime lab for testing. Last week, the county prosecutors office revealed that evidence contained in this rape kit linked to Anthony Sowell, who has been charged with multiple counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, abusing a corpse and tampering with evidence in the deaths of the 11 women. He faces the death penalty if convicted.
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 >
In another step forward for rape kit reform, the Santa Monica Police Department (SMPD) announced this week that they have sent all their untested rape kits to the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department crime lab for testing, the Santa Monica Daily Press reports.
The state of the SMPD’s backlog of untested rape kits came to light in a 2009 report by Human Rights Watch entitled “Testing Justice: The Rape Kit Backlog in Los Angeles City and County.” The report focused on the backlog in police and crime lab storage facilities in Los Angeles City, Los Angeles County, and the 47 cities within the county, of which Santa Monica is one. It found that there were as many as 485 untested rape kits that had been collected since 1996 in the Santa Monica Police Department’s storage facility were not tested.
“We are pleased to say that we zeroed in, made sure all kits were sent out and now we are clear of any backlog,” SMPD Captain Wendy Shirley said.
Prior to 2009, the SMPD did not send every rape kit to the crime lab for testing. The new policy of the department is to send every kit booked into evidence to the crime lab within 72 of More >