Joyful Heart is thrilled that the FY2015 Commerce, Justice, and Science Appropriations Bill that the House of Representatives released on Tuesday includes $36 million to address rape kit backlogs at law enforcement agencies across the country.
Back in March, President Obama requested $35 million for competitive Department of Justice grants that will provide communities with the vital resources they need to support multi-disciplinary response teams to develop and implement comprehensive rape kit reform. The House Appropriations Committee has now granted that request and even went beyond the proposed amount.
As Attorney General Eric Holder explained at a budget hearing earlier this month, this new grant program would allow “communities to develop plans and identify the most critical needs to address sexual assault prevention, investigation, prosecution and services, including addressing untested sexual assault evidence kits.” At that same hearing, Appropriations Committee members, particularly Ranking Member Congresswoman Nita Lowey, expressed their shock upon learning that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in law enforcement facilities. The Congresswoman described the backlog as “truly outrageous.”
In his testimony, the Attorney General also stressed that processing untested kits serves not only to solve crimes, but prevents crimes, as well, by identifying serial offenders. Testing backlogged kits also results in new leads and cases to investigative and prosecute, and survivors to re-engage. In light of diminishing budgets and limited capacity, many law enforcement agencies and prosecutors’ offices struggle to move those cases forward in addition to managing their current caseloads. For this reason, the new funding is critical for communities wishing to address their backlogs and the resulting cases with a comprehensive, multidisciplinary and survivor-centered approach.
Joyful Heart applauds the members of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science for making this groundbreaking commitment. We urge the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee to join their colleagues in taking this tremendous step toward justice for sexual assault survivors and their communities, and look forward to working with Congress to get this proposal to the President’s desk.