September 10, 2015; The Hill

Ten months after announcing a $35 million dollar initiative to help localities in New York and nationwide test untested rape kits, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch, sexual assault survivor Natasha Simone, and Joyful Heart Foundation president Mariska Hargitay announced another massive $79 million grant to help end the rape kit backlog.

“Today, the Manhattan D.A.’s office is announcing $38 million in grants going to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states,” said Vance in a press conference Thursday. “At the same time, the federal government is awarding $41 million to empower local jurisdictions to achieve comprehensive rape kit reform in their cities by counting and testing their kits and funding their investigations and prosecutions. Altogether, my office and our federal partners are awarding nearly $80 million for this vitally important criminal justice issue.”

NPQ reported previously that the Justice Department had earmarked the $41 million earlier this year to help fund the elimination of the backlog while finalizing the 2016 budget. This joint effort culminates into the largest single contribution that has ever been made for the backlog effort, as indicated by Vance. According to Vance, the grant is expected to fund the testing of approximately 70,000 kits nationwide. The funding will help more than 40 law enforcement agencies across the country test kits, including local departments in Flint, Michigan; Austin, Texas; Tallahassee, Florida; and state departments in Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin and California, among others nationwide. The awards range from approximately $90,000 to upwards of $2 million for localities to test kits.

“When we solve these cases, we get rapists off the streets,” said Biden. “The grants we’re announcing today to reduce the national rape kit backlog will bring that sense of closure and safety to victims while improving community safety.”

Biden and Vance both listed Detroit and Houston as model cities that had successfully or substantially eliminated their rape kit backlogs. As reported by NPQ, Detroit tested 10,000 of its 11,000 backlogged kits, the evidence from which helped identify 477 serial rapists. The potential for uncovering perpetrators of other crimes, in addition to bringing closure to sexual assault victims, is also an important motivator in testing the kits.

Along with Vance, the other speakers all provided impassioned speeches reaffirming one of the central premises behind this initiative: to tell victims and survivors that they themselves matter and their stories are important.

“For anyone who has felt isolated and afraid, for anyone that has lost faith and lost hope as a result of a sexual crime, this is our pledge to you: We will not forget you. We will not abandon you,” said Lynch. “Your peace of mind and your security are our top priorities within the Department of Justice and for the Attorney General of the United States.”—Shafaq Hasan