End the Backlog of Unprocessed Rape Kits

January 18, 2014 at 4:31 am (Current Events, inspiration, Personal) (, , , , , , , , )

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An episode of Law & Order: SVU a couple years ago highlighted the backlog of unprocessed rape kits across the country.  Mariska Hargitay has portrayed Detective Olivia Benson since the show’s spin-off from Law & Order 13 years ago.  Jennifer Love Hewitt guest-starred on this particular show, giving an incredibly emotional performance as a repeat rape survivor.  Women are traumatized along the way after they survive the actual rape.  They must endure the agonizingly slow and invasive process of evidence collection, which can take 4-6 hours, to obtain the hair and body fluids for DNA collection.  The victims are tended by health care workers (hopefully, but not always, by a trained Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner). They must tell and re-tell their experience to police officers, legal representatives, mental health professionals, and more. Much of the time, the victim has no idea if her assailant has been arrested, if he is incarcerated, or if he is still out there, free to terrorize others. It is actually up to the victim to follow up and see if their kit has been tested. 

The DNA evidence is often instrumental in the identification and conviction of the rapist.  That is why it is essential that the victims go thru each step of the difficult process.  It is ridiculous that the victim has to follow up on whether or not her rape kit has been tested, but for many tens of thousands of women across the country, that’s just what they must do.  

NewImageDriven to become an advocate for sexual assault survivors after receiving so many moving letters from women telling her what they had endured, Mariska Hargitay founded the Joyful Heart Foundation in 2004 to help the survivors of sexual assault and domestic violence “heal and reclaim their lives”.  The Joyful Heart Foundation is committed to helping end the rape kit backlog. To this end, they have launched endthebacklog.org, with the goal of ending the backlog of untested rape kits, and identifying best practices for eliminating this backlog by increasing public awareness at every level: local, state, and federal.

Every two minutes, someone is raped in America. One staggering statistic from the FBI notes that only 24% of reported rape cases result in an arrest. The enormous backlog in untested rape kits has a lot to do with it.  At an average cost of $1200 for each kit tested, many crime labs and police departments simply do not have the necessary resources to process the kits. The backlog not only allows the rapist to get away with his crime, it also prevents the victim from getting justice.  In many cases, the rapist will rape again and again.  Survivors deserve justice.  

In New York City, the arrest rate for rape went from 40% to 70% after the city eliminated its rape kit backlog in 2003.  In Detroit, after testing began on more than 11,000 kits, over 100 potential serial rapists were identified from just the first 1600 kits tested.  In August, a $500,000 grant was awarded to the Memphis Police Department to screen untested rape kits.  They would be able to send 2226 kits for preliminary testing, which would still leave over 10,000 kits untested, some of those dating from the 1980’s.  It makes me sick to my stomach to think about over 10,000 untested kits sitting on a shelf somewhere in my hometown, kits that could put criminals behind bars for the rest of their lives, and kits that could bring closure and peace to some of my friends. 

What can you do?  Help spread the word about the rape kit backlog.  Use social media to tell others.  They have an excellent and informative website, and the pages can be quickly and easily shared, just by clicking the Twitter or Facebook icons.  You can help end the backlog.  
 

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