Remarks of Mariska Hargitay on Manhattan DA's New Initiative to Help End the Rape Kit Backlog

The Joyful Heart Foundation is proud and excited to announce a new partnership with Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance’s Office. The District Attorney’s Office has committed up to $35 million in funding for jurisdictions to audit the scope of their backlogs, test previously unanalyzed kits and adapt and share best practices for rape kit reform. We are tremendously grateful for District Attorney Vance and his staff for their leadership—their commitment to ending the rape kit backlog sends a powerful message to survivors that they and their cases matter. We are honored to serve as a partner and technical advisor to the District Attorney’s Office on this first-of-its-kind grant program that will assist jurisdictions nationwide with the funding they so desperately need to analyze the untested rape kits in their police storage facilities. 

Mariska Hargitay, star of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation, spoke at today's press conference to announce the grant program. You can watch the full press conference here (livestream begins at 12:00pm ET) and read the Joyful Heart Foundation's full statement here.

Thank you District Attorney Vance for that kind introduction. I think if the roles were reversed, and I were introducing you, I'd introduce you with one word: hero. The commitment that you have made today is nothing short of heroic. This is the biggest investment anyone has ever been made to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States.

 I remember when I heard about the backlog for the first time. I was so deeply shocked. And offended. And outraged. And dismayed. In repsonse, we made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority at the Joyful Heart Foundation.

And as we wrapped our heads around this issue, as we learned more—the scope of the backlog, how it came to be—we began to see it for what it was: a brutal and clear demonstration of how crimes of sexual violence are regarded in our society. And, along with that, how the victims of those crimes are regarded.

The rape kit backlog sends two terrible messages: to victims, it says: you don't matter. What happened to you doesn't matter. And to criminals, it says: what you did doesn't matter. Testing the kits reverses those messages.

At long last—yes, after too much time, but at long last—survivors hear the message: You do matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter. And testing communicates to criminals that they are no longer able to offend with impunity.

 I firmly believe that we will be safer once the backlog is gone, simply because more people who are a threat to our safety will be behind bars. But it is the new, reversed message to survivors that I celebrate most of all. I also celebrate a reversal of power.

That is what sexual violence is about: power. An egregious, base, heinous exercise of power by one individual—or, sometimes, more than one—over another. But the law also has power. And today's announcement declares that the power of the law is on the victim's side. It's the reason a victim reaches out to law enforcement in the first place: in the hopes—and under the assumption—that the force of the law will come down on the perpetrator. So that justice would be served.

District Attorney Vance, what you have done serves justice. And to my eyes, that's what progress looks like. But progress, by definition, means there is work left to be done. And in this case, it's a lot of work. Testing is only the first step. Based on test results, there is a staggering number of witnesses to track down, case files to analyze,suspects to pursue. And survivors to re-engage—with care, expertise and compassion. Jurisdictions who want to do the right thing, who apply and receive funding through the DA’s program, still need to fund those critical next steps.

The funding to take those next steps is being considered by Congress right now. The investment announced today is a powerful complement to a $41 million proposed federal budget measure to fund the work cities and states need to do once they have their rape kit testing results back.

We are so grateful to the President and Vice President for their leadership on this issue, and to leaders in the U.S House of Representatives and Senate for recognizing that survivors deserve to experience the power of the law, that they deserve justice, that they deserve everything we can give them to help them heal. 

Mr. District Attorney, the word "advocate" means, literally: one who calls out on behalf of another. So on behalf of all those working so hard on this issue, and most of all, on behalf of the survivors we are so honored to serve, I call out to you and say: Thank you for your heroism.

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