The White House is dedicating nearly $80 million to clear the rape kit backlog, money that will allow police departments across the country to test forensic evidence that has been sitting on shelves for up to years.
The money will help test up to 70,000 rape kits, taking a step that victim advocates have been calling for over the last several years, Time reported. The effort is a partnership between the White House and the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office, which is contributing nearly half of the funding.
Rape kits contain biological evidence including hair and fluids from inside the body. Many women say the process of collective evidence is intrusive and often feels like a re-victimization, but often these kits sat on evidence room shelves for years waiting to be tested.
The new funding to clear the rape kit backlog aims to end that.
“I’m saying today to all the women awaiting justice, you are not forgotten,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance. “Through grants, we will prevent future rapes by taking rapists off the streets, but the grants will do more than test kits—they will provide closure for victims and families.”
New York City has been on the vanguard of rape kit testing. In recent years the city has taken major steps to clear its backlog, testing 17,000 kits between 2000 and 2003, leading to 49 indictments.
The current effort and the millions going to clear the rape kit backlog will help 20 other jurisdictions test their kits as well, said Attorney General Loretta Lynch.
“No victim’s suffering should be extended one minute longer because of procedural issues,” Lynch said.
Other areas have taken the lead on testing rape kits. In Detroit, officials called attention to the nearly 11,000 rape kits that had never been tested. In testing just 600 of those kits, police in Detroit said they were able to identify “evidence of 21 serial rapists.”
The issue is a priority for the White House as well.
“DNA technology is a guilty person’s worst enemy and the innocent person’s greatest friend,” said Vice President Joe Biden. He added that clearing the backlog of rape kits could help identify more serial rapists, who he said are responsible for half of all rapes.
Different jurisdictions have been splitting up the millions allotted to clear the rape kit backlog, with KTVN reporting that Nevada is already planning to use $5.6 million to start processing the roughly 7,500 untested kits.
[Image via Cuyahoga County Prosecutors Office]