Federal Government Response
After a decades-long campaign by women’s rights advocates, the FBI recently announced that it would revise the definition of rape in the Uniform Crime Report (UCR). Written more than 80 years ago, the current definition is problematic for several reasons.
The only type of sexual assault on which the UCR currently collects data is “forcible rape,” defined as “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” That definition excludes a number of crimes, including rapes where the victim was drugged or under the influence of alcohol, and all male victims of sexual assault.
Given the definition’s exceedingly narrow scope, many sexual assaults are not counted as rapes in yearly federal reports that are used to track crime rates in the United States. This under-reporting misleads the public about the prevalence of rape and results in fewer resources for both preventing future sexual violence and supporting survivors.
In mid-September, members of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), including representatives of police agencies from various cities, met with FBI officials and survivors’ advocates to discuss making the definition more inclusive. The proposed change must now go through an FBI working group later this month and an FBI advisory group in December.
Campaigning by advocates More >
On Friday, April 8, the US Department of Justice announced the two recipients of an action research grant targeting untested rape kits. Houston, Texas and Wayne County, Michigan will be receiving $176,000 and $200,000, respectively to, “identify underlying reasons why sexual assault kit evidence is not tested and to develop practices to improve the criminal justice response to sexual assault.”
The funding, administered by the National Institute of Justice, a branch of the US Department of Justice, is the first of a two phase project. According to the press release:
In Phase I, for which this FY 2010 funding was awarded, researchers will team up with representatives from the police department, crime lab, prosecutor’s office and community-based victim services organizations in Wayne County and Houston. The teams will develop a strategy to tackle their problems, with special emphasis on how and when to notify victims when their SAK (which may be years old) is going to be tested.
In Phase II of the project, NIJ seeks to provide additional funds to help the two jurisdictions implement their strategies and evaluate their effectiveness. NIJ anticipates that these two projects will produce transportable lessons and strategies for other jurisdictions experiencing similar problems.
Joyful Heart is thrilled 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.
Two weeks ago, I posted about Vice President Biden’s announcement of new initiatives from the federal government to improve the response to sexual and domestic violence. This week, I spoke with Kristina Rose, Deputy Director of the National Institute of Justice (NIJ), to discuss NIJ’s new sexual assault kit action research project.
Sarah Tofte: Tell me a bit about your background and how you got interested in issues around rape kit reform.
Kristina Rose: I have been working for about 25 years on crime and criminal justice issues. In the 1980’s, I was lucky enough to serve on a county crime victim board that addressed crime victims’ concerns, and that is where I got my first introduction to violence against women issues. Hearing crime victims tell their stories, especially around domestic violence and sexual assault, really moved me.
When I worked at the Office on Violence Against Women I had a great boss who supported the projects I felt most strongly about, which included sexual violence issues. I became very interested in best practices for treating victims of sexual assault, especially involving the forensic examination. We developed a virtual training DVD with Dartmouth Medical School and as part of that project, I produced More >
On October 27th, as part of a White House event to Commemorate Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Vice President Joe Biden announced that the federal government was increasing its efforts to end the rape kit backlog in the United States by funding pilot projects throughout the country to help jurisdictions eliminate their rape kit backlog.
It was an important moment, and I was lucky to get to be a part of it, sitting in the East Room of the White House as Vice President Biden made the announcement. Sitting three rows from the Vice President and President Barack Obama, who both made remarks, I was full of gratitude for an administration that is deeply committed to ending violence against women and girls.
Listening to the President and Vice President, I was filled with gratitude for how this administration is using its power to address sexual and domestic violence, and to shed light into the darkness of these issues. As Mariska Hargitay, Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, More >