Joyful Heart Foundation: Sexual Assault Survivors Given Hope in Congressional Spending Bill

For Immediate Release: December 9, 2014

The Joyful Heart Foundation tonight celebrated the inclusion of $41 million to address the nation’s rape kit backlog in the FY15 spending bill released by congressional leaders. This new community-based sexual assault response initiative at the Justice Department will provide local communities resources to: test backlogged kits in their police storage facilities; create multi-disciplinary teams to investigate and prosecute cases connected to the backlog; and address the need for victim notification and re-engagement with the criminal justice system.

DNA evidence contained in a rape kit can identify unknown assailants, confirm the presence of a known suspect, affirm the survivor’s account of the attack, connect the suspect to other unsolved crimes, and exonerate innocent suspects. And 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.

The Joyful Heart Foundation, led by actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, has been a leader in the effort to provide cities and states with the resources they need address their backlogs. “At long last, survivors will hear the message: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter. 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.”

Over the past five years, news has poured in about thousands of untested rape kits found in police evidence facilities in cities and states across the country—20,000 in Texas, 12,669 in Los Angeles, 4,000 in Illinois, 9,000 in Ohio, 11,341 in Detroit and 12,374 in Memphis. These are rape kits that never made it to a crime lab for testing. Because historically, most law enforcement agencies have not been required to report the number of untested kits in their custody, it’s likely that the largest numbers have yet to be discovered.

“Today, congressional leaders have given hope to the countless sexual assault survivors whose rape kits sit untested on shelves in police storage facilities across the country,” said Sarah Tofte, Vice President of Policy & Advocacy, Joyful Heart Foundation. “Dedicated funding to support communities in their work to address the untested kits in their police storage facilities and move those cases forward to prosecution is a relief to public officials committed to comprehensive reform. It is the funding they need to uphold their commitment to pursue every lead from testing rape kits, reform their criminal justice response to rape, engage survivors in the process and bring offenders to justice.”

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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