Joyful Heart Foundation Applauds $38 Million Awarded to Support Comprehensive Rape Kit Reform

For Immediate Release: September 26, 2016

Contact: Melissa Schwartz media@joyfulheartfoundation.org

The Joyful Heart Foundation, one of the leading advocacy organizations working toward nationwide rape kit reform, today applauded awards by the federal government of more than $38 million in grants to address the backlog of untested sexual assault kits at law enforcement agencies. A full list of recipients is available here

“We are grateful to President Obama, Vice President Biden, and the congressional leaders who continue to make ending the rape kit backlog a priority. Focusing a national effort on comprehensive reform demonstrates a commitment to survivors that we will do everything possible to bring healing and justice,” said Maile M. Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer of Joyful Heart. “Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters.”

DNA evidence is an invaluable investigative tool. When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, reveal serial offenders, and exonerate the wrongly convicted. 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.

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources. This is the second year that the federal government has invested dollars – through the Justice Department’s new Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) – to provide local communities with resources to support multidisciplinary community response teams engaged in the comprehensive reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to sexual assault cases. This includes testing backlogged kits; investigating and prosecuting cases connected to the backlog; and addressing the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.

Testing rape kits is just the first step to comprehensive reform. Once the problem is acknowledged and the first kits are sent for testing, cities are left with the enormous task of finding a way to test all of the rape kits in their storage facilities, and figuring out how to investigate and prosecute these cases, re-engage survivors in the process and address any systemic failures that led to the creation of the problem in the first place.

“Ending the rape kit backlog will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our government and in communities across the United States,” added Sarah Haacke Byrd, Joyful Heart’s Managing Director. “We remain committed to working with jurisdictions who are ready to engage in true, meaningful and survivor-centered reform.”

Joyful Heart serves as a technical advisor for SAKI grantees, with a focus on victim notification. Given the lack of scholarly research examining and suggesting best practices for victim notification, Joyful Heart and partner Dr. Courtney Ahrens brought together more than 90 survivors and criminal justice, medical, academic, clinical and advocacy professionals to establish a set of best practice recommendations for victim notification. The result, Navigating Notification, helps jurisdictions working to eliminate their backlogs of untested rape kits to create survivor-centered, trauma-informed policies and protocols for victim notification.

In the last two years, 21 states passed laws requiring sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory submission guidelines. These laws will expand what we know about the true extent of the number of untested rape kits and will result in thousands of cases for law enforcement to investigate and prosecute in addition to their current cases.

Joyful Heart has created the only national resource on the rape kit backlog, which includes an interactive map and resources for survivors, legislators, and the media. Learn more at: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org

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The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse, support survivors’ healing, and end this violence forever. 

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