A Letter to the Members of the United States Congress

We the undersigned advocates who work with survivors of sexual assault to find healing and recovery, members of law enforcement who investigate their cases, and prosecutors who hold their perpetrators accountable, write today to ask that you join us in our effort to give survivors the justice they deserve. 

We urge Congress to prioritize the President’s budget request for $35 million in dedicated funding for competitive grants that will provide communities across the country with the vital resources they need to create a coordinated response to thousands of rape kits sitting untested in police storage facilities—from testing to prosecution, and each step in between.

Over the past five years, we have learned of large numbers of untested rape kits languishing in police departments across the country with alarming frequency: 12,500 in Los Angeles; 4,000 in Cleveland; 6,600 in Houston; 3,000 in Phoenix; 11,304 in Detroit; 12,164 in Memphis. Because most law enforcement agencies have not been required to report the number of untested kits in their custody, it’s likely the largest numbers in many of the communities we serve have yet to be discovered.

Untested rape kits represent lost opportunities for healing and justice for survivors, and accountability for perpetrators. But we know that testing is just the first step to comprehensive reform. Once a backlog is acknowledged and the first kits are sent out for testing, cities are left to grapple with the enormous task of not just finding a way to test all of their backlogged kits, but also 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 backlog in the first place. 

This work takes political will, but it also takes significant resources, and up until now, finding the money has been a struggle for jurisdictions that want to enact a multi-disciplinary community approach to rape kit reform. 

For years, we have stood together in this work, in support of full funding for the Debbie Smith Act – a crucial tool for testing rape kits, especially those backlogged in crime labs. We applaud the House’s passage of the reauthorization, and look forward to the Senate’s. This new $35 million Department of Justice grant opportunity is a needed complement - without funding for the investigation and prosecution of the findings, test results may fall short. Based on successful results from multi-disciplinary efforts in Detroit, Houston and other cities, this funding focuses exclusively on meeting community needs for investigation, prosecution and victim reengagement.

Those cities brought together law enforcement, prosecutors, victim advocates and crime labs to address untested rape kits in police storage facilities, to create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute those cases, to conduct victim notifications and reengage victims with the criminal justice system and to develop and implement comprehensive policies to prevent future backlogs. Communities nationwide want the opportunity to follow these models and continue to build on this foundation.

We urge you to fully fund this new program, which is endorsed by advocacy organizations and service providers from across the country. For more information, please visit http://www.endthebacklog.org/government/35-million.

Thank you,

  • Boston Area Rape Crisis Center
  • Break the Cycle
  • Crime Victims Treatment Center, Mt. Sinai St. Luke's and Mt. Sinai Roosevelt Hospitals
  • DC Rape Crisis Center
  • Downstate Coalition for Crime Victims
  • The Enliven Project 
  • Futures Without Violence, formerly Family Violence Prevention Fund
  • Hollaback!
  • Illinois Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Joyful Heart Foundation
  • Memphis Area Women's Council
  • Natasha’s Justice Project
  • National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence
  • National Network to End Domestic Violence 
  • National Organization of Sisters of Color Ending Sexual Assault
  • National Resource Center on Domestic Violence
  • North Carolina Coalition Against Sexual Assault
  • Ohio Alliance to End Sexual Violence
  • Peace Over Violence
  • Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape
  • Rape Victim Advocates
  • Safe Horizon
  • Test 400k
  • Texas Association Against Sexual Assault 
  • Urban Justice Center
  • Washington Coalition of Sexual Assault Programs
  • Wayne County (Detroit) SAFE
  • YWCA Metropolitan Chicago

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