Joyful Heart Foundation Applauds Hawaii Legislation to Address Rape Kit Backlog

For Immediate Release: February 11, 2016
Contact: media@endthebacklog.org

HONOLULU – The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded in Kailua-Kona in 2004, today provided testimony in support of House Bill 1907, which would help address the rape kit backlog in Hawai‘i. Since 2010, Joyful Heart has made the elimination of the rape kit backlog a top priority. Through partnerships with federal, state and local government, non-profit organizations, law enforcement, advocates and survivors, Joyful Heart is working to bring attention, critical funding, and reforms to improve the criminal justice response to sexual violence.  

With the passage of House Bill 1907, Hawai‘i would join the growing list of states leading the effort to take legislative action to end the backlog. The bill would: create a tracking program that ensures that law enforcement sends rape kits are sent to the lab for testing within 10 days of collection; mandate that the lab analyzes the kit within six months of receiving it and enters the results into CODIS; and directs law enforcement agencies to conduct an annual report to the Attorney General about the number of untested kits in their custody. The bill also addresses the backlog of untested kits by mandating the Attorney General to ensure that all rape kits collected prior to July 1, 2016, are tested and entered into the DNA database.

"Implementing a sexual assault evidence kit tracking and accountability program in Hawai‘i will take a coordinated effort and deep commitment at all levels of our state," said Kata Issari, Executive Director for Joyful Heart's Hawai‘i Region, who testified today. "On behalf of survivors across Hawai‘i — many of whom have been re-traumatized by the experience of waiting for the investigation and prosecution of their case — we thank the members of the Hawai‘i state legislature and particularly the Women's Caucus, for the attention they have paid to this issue. Passing the bill out of committee is the first step toward meaningful change. Survivors deserve nothing less."

Every two minutes, someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. In Hawai‘i, one in seven — 67,000 — women have been raped.

When a victim reports an assault to the police, a hospital or rape crisis center, a doctor or nurse will photograph, swab and conduct an exhaustive and invasive four to six-hour examination of the victim’s body for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. The examiner collects and preserves this evidence in a sexual assault evidence—or rape—kit. When tested, rape kit evidence can identify an unknown assailant, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor's account of the attack, connect the suspect to other crime scenes, and exonerate the wrongly convicted.

Yet the federal government estimates there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police and crime lab storage facilities across the country. Because most jurisdictions do not have systems for tracking or counting rape kits, we cannot be sure of the total number.

 Testing rape kits is just the first step to comprehensive reform. Once the problem is acknowledged and the first kits are sent out for testing, cities are left to grapple 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.

In 2015 alone, 11 states passed laws requiring sexual assault kit audits or some type of mandatory submission guidelines. Numerous other states have begun the process in 2016. 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.

The President and Congress have thus far approved a total of $86 million for this unique program. These federal funds will provide much-needed support for communities — like Hawai'I — as they work to end their backlogs and secure justice for survivors. 

For background and further information on the rape kit backlog, go to: ENDTHEBACKLOG.org.

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The mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues.

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