Federal and State Leaders Add Millions to the Fight Against Rape Kit Backlogs

A white box and set of vials on a table labeled "Evidence Collection Kit"

"The bottom line is simple—if we're able to test these kits, more crimes could be solved and more women can live with the comfort of knowing her rapist will not return,” said Vice President Joe Biden last week. Biden, together with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance, survivors and advocates, announced the release of new funding to address the backlog of untested sexual assault forensic evidence kits (“rape kits”).

Vance announced awards totaling $38 million to help cities and states test backlogged kits. The funds will come from asset forfeiture money. Vance says that the grants, which will go to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states and range from $97,000 to $2 million, will cover testing of more than 56,000 rape kits. Bode Cellmark Forensics (Bode Cellmark) has entered into a services agreement to process kits for grant recipients of the District Attorney’s program.

Biden and Lynch announced a separate $41 million in Justice Department grants through the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI). These funds will support community response teams engaged in the reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to sexual assault cases resulting from evidence found in previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits in law enforcement custody.

The Justice Department selected RTI International as the training and technical assistance provider for the SAKI grantees. RAINN is part of RTI’s team, along with the International Associated of Chiefs of Police, AEquitas, the SANE-SART Research Service, the Joyful Heart Foundation, and Rebecca Campbell, Ph.D., from Michigan State University.

“We are grateful to Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance for their commitment to fighting sexual violence. The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and the Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination Grant Program will help us get closer to ensuring that all rape kits are tested for DNA, all victims receive answers, and more sexual predators are brought to justice,” said Rebecca O’Connor, RAINN’s vice president for public policy.

“These programs will build on the success of the Debbie Smith Act, which has helped states test hundreds of thousands of rape kits. Despite the progress we’ve made, an enormous number of kits remain untested, which makes the programs announced today so valuable,” said O’Connor.

Senator John Cornyn (R-TX), a longstanding leader in the effort to address the backlog, said the announcement of the grants “[I]s another positive step forward to ending the rape kit backlog in cities across Texas and the country, but more needs to be done to give survivors the justice they deserve. The Administration must take immediate steps to fully implement the bipartisan SAFER Act to ensure these kits don’t continue to languish on evidence room shelves.”

President Obama signed SAFER into law more than two years ago. The law channels funding to one of the places it's needed most: to inventorying and testing more rape kits and increasing transparency. This spring, RAINN’s president and founder, Scott Berkowitz, testified before a U.S. Senate committee on the critical need for SAFER’s full implementation.

In addition to working on federal DNA policy, RAINN is a partner in the Rape Kit Action Project (RKAP), which works to pass state rape kit audit and testing laws.

Be part of the solution: Visit RAINN's Action Center and sign up to stay informed about RAINN’s work to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits, as well as other key policy issues.

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