Vice President Joe Biden and Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski have secured $41 million in federal funding to help end the backlog of rape kits that sit untested, gathering dust in crime labs around the country for up to 5 to 10 years. Caitlin Dickson reported, per a Department of Justice study, some kits sit in officer’s desks and lockers never even progressing beyond that point. NYT columnist Nicholas Kristof once posed the ironic question, “Is Rape Serious?” Judging by the lack of prioritization on this crime, too few seem to value getting justice for those courageous enough to report their assault.
Bravo to Biden and Mikulski for getting federal funding to help solve the problem. Either individual states (with notable recent exceptions of Detroit, Houston and New York City) haven’t the financial means or the inclination to put this issue on the front burner where it belongs.
Per Ms. Dickson’s article in Yahoo News, Vice President Biden stated, “There are certain problems that can’t wait, like violence against women”:
“The backlog” refers to the estimated 400,000 untested rape kits currently collecting dust on the shelves of police crime labs around the country — a figure that likely reflects far fewer than the actual number of untested kits, as law enforcement agencies are not required to report them….
Back in 1994, when Biden was a senator, he teamed up with Mikulski to pass the Violence Against Women Act. It was this landmark piece of legislation that, among other things, first required states to provide free DNA testing to anyone who reports a rape. VAWA also resulted in the creation and implementation of the Combined DNA Index System, or CODIS, the criminal forensic database used by the FBI to match the DNA evidence from rape kits to convicted felons. Since, as Biden noted, studies show “repeat offenders commit over 90 percent of the rapes committed in the country,” CODIS has proved extremely effective in identifying rapists and, often, linking them to multiple assaults.
“DNA is the guilty person’s worst enemy and it is the innocent person’s greatest and best friend,” [Biden] said.
Yet more than 20 years after VAWA, thousands of rape survivors wait years to see their attacker convicted only to find out that the valuable evidence needed to make that happen has never even been tested.”
A sexual assault survivor faces what can only appear as a lackadaisical attitude via unprocessed rape kits, coupled with a healthy dose of victim blaming – the “what were you wearing” question. Is it any wonder so many feel discouraged, even afraid to come forward in the first place?
Then there is also the matter of the ridiculous statute of limitations …so after 5 or 10 years, you are no longer guilty of violating someone? The crime just evaporates? It’s a good thing New York City is starting to get its act together on processing its backlog – their statute of limitation on rape is only 5 years, which illustrates the vital necessity of better and faster testing. The high recidivism rate is also the best reason to process these kits and get repeat offenders off the streets and into prison where they belong.
As John Fritze reported in the Baltimore Sun:
President Barack Obama has called for continuing that [the $41 million] funding in the next fiscal year and adding $20 million to identify new ways to address the backlog.
Delays in testing kits drew renewed attention in Maryland last year after The Baltimore Sun reported on the case of a serial rapist who slipped through the cracks. The man raped a woman in 2012; by the time police processed the DNA nearly two years later, he had attacked again.
Fritze quoted Mikulski: “We’ve got to make sure there is no backlog anywhere in the United States.” She called the funding, “an absolute breakthrough.”
Per The Daily Record:
Biden said the federal funding will help local and state law enforcement agencies test the kits and train personnel.
“We want to make sure no victim is doubly victimized: by a violent attack from a predator, then by a system that’s not equipped or willing to deal with the evidence,” Mikulski said. “Behind every kit there’s a victim, and behind every victim there’s a predator. When you get a predator off the street, you not only do justice to the victim but prevent other victims from occurring.”
Per Anita Little of Ms. Magazine: Vice President Biden said “More crimes can be solved. More crimes can be prevented, and more women will be given back their lives.”
Senator Mikulski also noted, according to the CDC that “one in four women will face rape, violence, or stalking.” It has been said, “What gets measured gets done.” Yet when it comes to women on the receiving end of violence, we are still woefully slow to take the problem seriously. These staggering numbers should be a wakeup call – yet the very articles I am [deliberately] quoting are, for the most part, local news outlets. Why isn’t this development getting national attention?
Assault survivors have noted that what is needed is a paradigm shift. We tell women “don’t get raped.” We need to teach boys and men, “Don’t rape.” Part of the issue has to do with the depictions of women in comics, on TV, in film, and magazine ads along with violent, misogynistic rhetoric in social media that continues unabated. While we work on teaching respect for women and revising the rhetoric and attitudes to prevent the crime in the first place, society also needs to be taught that anyone who commits such a crime will be found and prosecuted – not allowed to get away so they can go out and do it again.
This newly secured funding is the first step in sending a message that the crime of sexual assault is being taken seriously.
Anita Finlay is the bestselling author of Dirty Words on Clean Skin — exposing media bias in a society not as evolved as advertised. #1 on Amazon’s Women in Politics books for 16 weeks.
Like Anita Finlay, Author on Facebook.
Follow @AnitaFinlay on Twitter.