The Government Is Finally Doing Something to End the Rape-Kit Backlog

Mother Jones

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Across the country, an estimated 400,000 rape kits—the DNA swabs, hair, photographs, and detailed information gathered from victims of sexual assault and used as evidence for the prosecution to convict rapists—have never been tested. Testing kits can be expensive, and in many jurisdictions, a lack of funds has resulted in kits being consigned to dusty shelves, stored in abandoned police warehouses, or stowed away in forensic labs—sometimes for years. As a result, survivors may never see their rapists prosecuted, and repeat offenders continue to commit crimes.

But now a new, $41 million Department of Justice program could finally help localities end this backlog. The money from Congress “goes a long way towards solving the problem,” says Linda Fairstein, a former sex crimes prosecutor who serves on the board of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a nonprofit established by Law and Order:SVU actress Mariska Harigtay that does research and advocacy work on the rape-kit backlog.

Last week, the Department of Justice began accepting applications from states, counties, and municipalities that want to use the federal dollars to tackle their rape kit backlogs. Officials in Baltimore, Milwaukee, Detroit, Memphis, Cleveland, and Houston tell Mother Jones that they’re planning on applying for some of the funds. “The grant shows an investment on all levels, national to local,” says Doug McGowen, a coordinator in the sexual assault response unit in Memphis, Tennessee.

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The Government Is Finally Doing Something to End the Rape-Kit Backlog

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