NEWSFLASH: New York Commits $35 Million to Eliminating the Rape Kit Backlog

better rape kit sliderEarlier this week, New York County District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced he will be allocating $35 million toward the elimination of untested rape kits across the country. In a press conference on Wednesday, Vance said the money will go towards testing rape kits and solving unsolved sex crimes—all to provide closure to survivors.

When a rape kit is backlogged, the DNA samples aren’t tested, which negates the collection of the rape kit in the first place. Survivors place their trust in the justice system—often a triggering experience in itself—and this lack of follow-up renders their oftentimes traumatic trip to the ER meaningless. In the Wednesday press release, Vance confirmed that New York City police process every rape kit they receive, showing a commitment to survivors and an effort to stop future crimes. (An estimated 91 to 95 percent of rapes are committed by serial rapists, so it’s vital to identify offenders in order to stop further violence.)

Testing a single rape kit can cost up to $1,000, which often stalls the process. Across the country, an estimated 400,000 untested rape kits sit in police storage facilities. Many cities still have thousands of backlogged rape kits. Under Vance’s new project, law enforcement agencies across the country will be able to apply to the New York County District Attorney’s Office for funding to test their backlogged rape kits. Vance’s office will then allocate the competitive grants, which will be available starting this spring.

Vance’s office is partnering with the Joyful Heart Foundation, which through its ENDTHEBACKLOG program has worked for years to spread awareness about backlogging and advocating for nationwide rape-kit reform.

Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation and Law & Order: SVU star, said at Wednesday’s press conference:

This is the biggest investment anyone has ever been made to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States. … As we learned more—the scope of the backlog, how it came to be—we began to see it for what it was: a brutal and clear demonstration of how crimes of sexual violence are regarded in our society. And, along with that, how the victims of those crimes are regarded. … At long last—yes, after too much time, but at long last—survivors hear the message: You do matter. What happened to you matters. Your cases matter.

Fortunately, Vance isn’t the only politician supporting Hargitay’s campaign. In late September, President Obama signed the Debbie Smith Restoration Act of 2014, authorizing $151 million to test unexamined DNA evidence kits from 2015-2019. The U.S. Senate subcommittee on commerce, justice, science and related agencies also added $41 million in their bills for the 2015 fiscal year that would “provide grants to local communities to investigate and prosecute these cases, re-engage survivors, and create system-wide reforms to ensure that a backlog never occurs again.”

Photo courtesy of The New York County District Attorney’s Office


Brianna Kovan is a reader and writer from the Midwest. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a B.A. in English.