VP Biden, AG Lynch announce federal funds for rape-kit backlog

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. says the combined federal and state funding 'represent[s] the single largest contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog that has ever been made.'

Kevin Hagen/AP Photo
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance shows a sexual assault kit during a press conference at the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner Thursday, Sept. 10, 2015, in New York. During the event, Vance, Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch and actress Mariska Hargitay announced almost $80 million in grants to help eliminate a vast nationwide backlog of rape kits.

Between 70,000 and 100,000 estimated rape kits, some which have gone untested since the 1980s, will now see the light of justice with a combined $79 million in federal and New York City funds, The Associated Press reported. The funds are targeted at the backlog of untested DNA evidence in 27 states, but will be felt nationwide.

In a statement regarding the release of these funds, Vice President Joe Biden said, "There's nothing more consequential than giving a woman back her life.” He toured the New York City medical examiner's testing lab with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. and "Law & Order: SVU" actress Mariska Hargitay.

Hargitay is a prominent advocate for victims and survivors of sexual assault and abuse, and the founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation, which aims to provide support to those individuals. She said that testing these rape kits - DNA sample evidence collected in the wake of an attack - is a critical step towards letting women who have been assaulted know that “[W]hat happens to you matters.”

The US Government already pledged about $40 million towards the creation of a Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI) grant program this past March, which seeks to cover the costs of testing rape kits in individual states. DNA testing costs around $1,000 per kit, according to End the Backlog, a political advocacy group. The Manhattan District Attorney’s office has now pledged an additional $38 million.  

The release of these funds comes at the end of a week of intense speculation regarding whether or not Mr. Biden will place his hat in the ring for the presidency. Biden said in an interview with Stephen Colbert on the Late Show Thursday that he does not feel he has the ‘emotional commitment’ to make that decision right now.

Vance said in an interview with Newsweek that the combined federal and state funding "represent[s] the single largest contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog that has ever been made."

According to the official website for RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network), the reason for the rape kit or DNA backlog is primarily because the evidence was either never sent to a crime lab, or it did arrive at a crime lab but was never tested. RAINN says that the importance of testing a DNA kit not only can assist in identifying the original perpetrator, but can also prevent future assaults from occurring.

Biden has had a long history of supporting women, and advocating against the violence which is so frequently perpetrated against them. As a senator, he introduced the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which both strengthened federal penalties for perpetrators of sex crimes and established the National Domestic Violence Hotline, a new opportunity for victims in crisis to find a way out.

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