One of Joyful Heart’s priorities is to draw attention to the need to ensure that survivors are notified about the status of their rape kits, a process referred to as victim notification.
As states and local jurisdictions have begun to process previously untested rape kits and take steps toward eliminating their backlogs, the question has remained of how to re-engage survivors whose cases are often years—sometimes decades—old.
Many jurisdictions are struggling to do this in a way that’s compassionate, effective, empowering and transparent—that respects the privacy of survivors and the immense weight of their experiences.
After the initial police report, a survivor whose kit has gone into a backlog often never receives any follow-up information about her rape kit or her case. Unsurprisingly—and rightfully so—many people, including survivors who have gone through the rape kit collection process, assume that when law enforcement does not follow up, DNA testing occurred and was inconclusive, or that there simply was no information to share. When victim notification occurs years, sometimes decades, later, the process can be jarring and often re-traumatizing for survivors.
It is likely that notification about a survivor’s rape kit will bring to the surface strong feelings and emotions. Despite the passage of time, survivors might feel as though their assault just occurred and can relive the trauma and fear they experienced. This can cause traumatic levels of distress including flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and other difficult and confusing experiences.
Those who are responsible for delivering this information to survivors—usually members of law enforcement—often have no protocol to guide them through the process. They face difficult questions, such as when, if at all, notification should occur, who should deliver the notification and how. They frequently report that they worry about what harm they may be doing, and that they would like greater access to information on best practices.
In our groundbreaking work on victim notification, Joyful Heart is conducting critical research on how jurisdictions across the country have approached and should approach this process. Most importantly, we’re hearing from survivors about their experiences. We are compiling our findings in a forthcoming report, which will serve as the first comprehensive resource on how communities can approach victim notification.
We invite you to explore this section and to check back in early 2014, when we plan to release our report, for more information.