Joyful Heart Applauds President’s Investment in Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: February 2, 2015
Contact: Melissa Schwartz, media@joyfulheartfoundation.org

NEW YORK – The Joyful Heart Foundation, one of the nation’s leading advocacy organizations working toward nationwide rape kit reform, applauded the release of President Obama’s FY16 budget today, which includes $41 million in funding for the Justice Department’s community-based sexual assault response initiative.

DNA evidence contained in a rape kit can identify unknown assailants, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, connect the suspect to other unsolved crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects. And yet, there are thousands upon thousands of rape kits sitting untested in police storage facilities across the country representing thousands of leads to investigate, survivors to re-engage with compassion and care, and cases to prosecute. 

“The White House’s investment in rape kit reform continues to send the message to survivors that they – and their experiences – matter,” said Maile M. Zambuto, CEO of Joyful Heart. “We are so grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Attorney General Holder for their leadership on this issue, which will create a lasting legacy for years to come. We look forward to working with congressional leaders to ensure this funding is included in the spending bill for the coming year.”

The Department of Justice’s grant program, created last year, will provide local communities resources through the Bureau of Justice Assistance to: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities; create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog; and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.

The President’s budget also includes $20 million for research on reducing the backlog of sexual assault kits at Justice’s National Institute of Justice. The goal of this initiative is to improve the quality and practice of forensic science through innovative solutions that support research and development, testing and evaluation, and technology for the criminal justice community. 

Over the past few years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country. Because historically, most law enforcement agencies have not been required to report the number of untested kits in their custody, it’s likely that the largest numbers have yet to be discovered.  

Rape kit reform isn’t just essential to provide justice to survivors – it is also a path a more effective criminal justice system. In Cleveland, the Cuyahoga County Prosecutor’s Office researched the criminal convictions of the first 229 defendants they indicted and discovered they had cost county taxpayers $122 million in economic harm. The Office estimates that they will have more than $500 million in economic loss to the County for not investigating and prosecuting these rapists when the victims first made their complaint to the police.

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ENDTHEBACKLOG is a program of the Joyful Heart Foundation to shine a light on the backlog of untested rape kits throughout the United States. Our goal is to end this injustice by conducting groundbreaking research identifying the extent of the nation’s backlog and best practices for eliminating it, expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and officials and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels. We urge you to learn more about the backlog, where it exists and why it matters. We invite you to take action and support efforts to test rape kits. Help us send the message that we must take rape seriously.

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