All over the news lately is talk of the tens of thousands of rape-kits around the country that have never been processed. An alarming number of these kits documenting a violent event in someone’s life, have been stockpiling for years, and in many cases, decades.
My wife Marcia works for the Indiana Coalition to End Sexual Assault (ICESA). Last night I attended, with Marcia and our oldest daughter Sarah, a premier of Mariska Hargitay’s (Law and Order SVU) documentary film “I Am Evidence.” The film focuses on rape-kits and how many states have stockpiled them for years with only a few being sent for DNA testing. In 2009, it was discovered the City of Detroit had more than 10,000 unprocessed rape-kits being stored in a dilapidated building, where the evidence was exposed to the elements.
Mariska Hargitay is the Founder & President of the Joyful Heart Foundation which began the herculean effort to rid Detroit of its rape-kit backlog by seeing the crime evidence processed and the DNA samples entered into a crime database. The investigations that followed identified more than 800 serial rapists from the thousands of DNA samples obtained from the rape-kits. Had the rape-kits been timely processed, many of the rapes that took place may have been prevented.
Due to the efforts of the Joyful Heart Foundation, several other states began looking at their own rape-kit backlog. Juneau, Alaska discovered 3484 untested rape-kits, Kentucky had 3000 and Wisconsin 2400. Overall, there are more than 200,000 untested rape-kits in the United States.
As many as 18 states have passed legislation to address these backlogs. There are calls for more funding (both private and government) to cover the cost of processing rape-kits, more training for law enforcement and hospital personnel and a tracking system to make sure victims do not get lost in the system and forgotten. As one panelist put it following the showing of the documentary, the only thing more personal than sexual assault is murder.
We are seeing a plethora of support for issues pertaining to criminal offenders, from billionaire philanthropists, celebrities and professional athletes aimed at helping criminal offenders. Yet we hear very little from these same groups, save Mariska Hargitay and her Joyful Heart Foundation, of efforts to assist victims of crime. Where have we come to as a society when the focus is more on the welfare of those who choose to do harm to others as opposed to those who are being harmed? Isn’t it time for society to refocus its attention and priorities on those who most deserve it?
States like New Jersey are spending hundreds of millions on a statewide pre-trial release system that awards free bail to repeat criminal offenders, yet is unable to provide any detail on how many rape-kits the state has backlogged and how many of those kits have been tested. Taxpayer money and grant funding should be spent helping victims of rape and other crimes, not making life more affordable and comfortable for those charged with committing the crimes.
According to the Joyful Heart Foundation, more than 200,000 rape-kits have gone unprocessed across the nation. That’s an embarrassment and needs to be corrected. Visit www.joyfulheartfoundation.org to learn more.