In 2010, the Joyful Heart Foundation‘s second issue of Reunion featured a story of a young girl whose big voice is matched only by her bigger heart. Ella Burnside was given an assignment from her English teacher: write about something in the world you want to change, and then do it. Ella wrote about ending sexual violence and domestic abuse, and then went about raising over $10,000 for Joyful Heart. She was in tenth grade.
This school year, Ella attended a youth government conference in her home state of Kentucky. There, she and several of her classmates presented a bill to the mock legislature calling for the elimination of Kentucky’s backlog of untested rape kits and proposing a timeline to get the kits tested. Several news sources, including CBS and WLKY, have reported on the state crime lab’s backlog of hundreds of kits.
As Ella reported to us, her bill sailed through the mock House and Senate, with approximately 95% of her peers voting for it. “I am confident that they truly understood the importance of eliminating KY’s backlog and that many of them were immensely More >
We came across this article on nola.com about the New Orleans Police Department’s efforts to resolve its backlog of untested rape kits. Using time and resources donated by the Louisiana State Police, Marshall University and the National Institute of Justice, the department is looking to make rape kit testing a priority, NOLA reports.
From the article:
About 60 kits per month will be sent to the State Police lab and then will be forwarded later to Marshall University for analysis.
The Police Department’s crime lab, which was decimated in Katrina, has a backlog of several years in testing the evidence kits. This sort of evidence is crucial to investigations.
Committing time and resources to testing sexual assault evidence is crucial to resolving backlogs like this one. In November, CBS reported that the Louisiana state lab was struggling to work its way through a backlog of hundreds of kits, some as old as eight years.
Hopefully the extra help and renewed energy will make a difference for New Orleans.
Read the full article here, and continue to check back here for more updates from across the country.
Late in November, I interviewed Sgt. Liz Donegan of the Austin Police Department’s Sex Crimes Unit about her groups’ response to sexual violence, their new campaign, “We Believe,” as well as Austin’s elimination of its rape kit backlog.
Sarah Tofte: How did you decide to become a police officer?
Sgt. Liz Donegan: I have always wanted to be a police officer, every since I was a little girl. I have four sisters and all of them will tell you that’s all I ever talked about when I was younger. It sounds cliche, but I really wanted to help people and I thought being a cop was an exciting way to do that. It took me a while to get around to becoming a police officer. I had served in the Army after leaving college. When my tour was up, I moved to Texas and began working at the Sheriff’s Department. I worked as a corrections officer and then was hired on with the Austin Police Department. I did not have any reservations about working within policing, as I had worked in many male dominated fields previously. I believed if I worked hard and it showed in More >
Late last week, there was considerable coverage in the L.A. press about the current state of the backlog of untested rape kits in Los Angeles County. LAPD Chief Charlie Beck was honored Friday by the California Forensic Science Institute for his efforts on the issue.
According to an Los Angeles Times, local law enforcement has announced that “it has made considerable progress analyzing DNA evidence from thousands of rapes and sexual assaults that had been left untested.” The article continues:
In late 2008, Beck’s predecessor, William Bratton, under pressure from victim advocate groups, tasked Beck with getting a handle on the thousands of pieces of evidence that had languished untouched in police storage freezers for years.
Ultimately, the department counted 6,132 untested rape kits, which contain samples of semen, blood, hair or other DNA material collected from victims’ bodies and crime scenes. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced it, too, had thousands of untested kits.
Both agencies committed themselves to clearing the backlogs and to test all viable rape kits going forward. The LAPD cobbled together funds from federal grants, public coffers and private donors to launch an aggressive push to outsource the evidence kits to private labs for testing.
At the same time, More >
One of our goals for the Backlog Blog is to help keep our wider community up-to-date on efforts to reduce the number of untested rape kits in localities all across the United States. From time to time, we’ll post news from around the country that highlights these efforts.
Yesterday, I came across an article in the San Francisco Examiner that discussed new legislation aimed to resolve the city’s backlog. Here’s one highlight from that article:
The Police Department would be required as part of its annual budget submission to report if it is meeting the goal of picking up rape kits within 72 hours of the reported incident, testing evidence within 14 days and testing other DNA evidence from the crime scene within a certain time frame, under proposed legislation.
I also found this quote from a local law enforcement official to be very heartening:
“Rape kits are the most valuable piece of evidence often in these cases. We support this 72-hour collection,” said Assistant Chief Denise Schmitt, who oversees the crime lab. She said the department has begun to meet that goal already.
Read the full article from the San Francisco Examiner.
And check back here on the Backlog Blog in the weeks ahead for More >