End the Backlog
"To me, the backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. For that reason, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority." - Mariska Hargitay
What is a rape kit?
In sexual assault and domestic violence, the victim's body is part of the crime scene. When a report is made to the police, at a hospital, or at a crisis center- the victim can choose to have a doctor/nurse photograph, swab and conduct an invasive and exhaustive examination of the victim's entire body for DNA evidence left behind by the attacker. The process takes 4-6 hours to complete. The evidence is collected and preserved in a sexual assault evidence kit, commonly referred to as a rape kit.
DNA evidence contained by a rape kit is an incredibly powerful tool to solve and prevent crime. It can identify an unknown attacker and confirm presence of a known suspect. It can connect the suspect to other crime scenes and identify serial offenders. It can confirm the survivor's account of the attack and discredit the suspect.
Every 98 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted in the US.
What is the rape kit backlog?
To accomplish these things, however, rape kits must be tested.
It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in police department and crime lab storage facilities across the country. This is known as the rape kit backlog. Each untested kit is a lost opportunity to help the survivor heal and get justice.
What causes the backlog?
The backlog is caused by two distinct problems.
The first part of the backlog occurs when rape kits are collected and booked into evidence, but detectives/prosecutors do not request DNA analysis. These kits remain in police evidence storage facilities indefinitely. This is known as the "untested" or "unsubmitted" rape kit backlog.
An untested/backlogged kit can be defined as one that hasn't been submitted to an accredited public or private crime lab for testing within 10 days of being booked into evidence.
The second part of the backlog occurs in crime laboratory facilities. In this case, the rape kits have been submitted for testing are awaiting DNA analysis. Many kits submitted to crime labs are not tested in a timely manner.
A backlogged kit at the DNA testing lab is defined as one that has not been tested within 30 days of receipt by the lab.
Since most jurisdictions don't have a system for counting or tracking rape kits, there is no way to know the total number of untested rape kits nationwide.
There is currently NO federal law mandating the tracking and testing of rape kits. It's estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested kits in police/crime lab storage facilities throughout the country.
States all across the country are making real reforms to end the backlog.
States and local jurisdictions have started to count, track and test the untested kits in their facilities.
Accountability is the first step.
The Joyfull Heart Foundation, a nonprofit organization founded by Mariska Hargitay from Law & Order: SVU, works to shine light on the backlog of untested rape kits in the US. With hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in law enforcement facilities, there is no way to know the extent of the backlog because few state governments and no federal agencies require that police departments count or track the units in their possession.
Many times, the number of untested rape kits in a particular jurisdiction remains unknown until journalists, nonprofit organizations or concerned citizens step in to investigate.
How big is the backlog where you live?
Check the national map to see your state statistics, here.
See the federal, state and local responses, here.
Find out how to take action, here.