Feds Kick In $38M More to Fight Rape-Kit Backlog

     (CN) — Two years after shocking revelations about 70,000 rape kits that went unprocessed across the country for decades, the United States committed another $38 million on Monday to expand testing.
     It’s called the National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The Bureau of Justice Assistance, a division of the U.S. Office of Justice Programs, said in a statement that the initiative supports “a community-based comprehensive approach to inventory and test kits that were house in law enforcement storage rooms … [and] never been submitted for testing.”
     The money will help fund efforts by investigators to chase down leads, and can be used to do necessary research in sexual assault cases through DNA collection that might stop serial sex offenders.
     “Reducing the backlog of untested sexual assault kits is a complex issue that requires a comprehensive, evidence-based and community-supported approach to resolve,” BJA Director Denise O’Donnell said in a statement.
     “These grants provide resources and improve processes to test kits, provide training to law enforcement personnel and improve the justice system while providing justice and resolution to the victims of sexual assault,” she added.
     So far this year, the department has already made 19 grant awards totaling $25 million to states and various law-enforcement agencies in support of testing.
     The BJA said it gave at least $6 million in years past to help government agencies “continue their efforts to address the challenges surrounding the processing of untested sexual assault kits.”
     To help grantees get their untested kits in order, the Research Triangle Institute received a $5 million award to offer training and assistance, according to the press release.
     The BJA said it also gave $2 million to the National Institute of Justice to evaluate the efforts and progress of its initiative.
     Beginning Oct. 1, the BJA will begin doling out 16 more awards of up to $2 million, and three more for $1 million, as part of a three-year project.
     All this comes just over a year after Vice President Joe Biden, Attorney General Loretta Lynch and actress Mariska Hargitay held a news conference touting a pledge of nearly $80 million to process kits nationwide.
     The Department of Justice vowed to dedicate $41 million, while Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance vowed to commit $38 million to the project.
     “How doubly invasive it is to have this rape-kit procedure occur after you’ve been violated,” Biden said in Manhattan that day.
     Biden said the government had found two private forensic labs that would test the kits for about $675, which is half of the nationwide average that reaches $1,500.
     New York City became the first in the nation to catch up on its backlogged tests, Vance added at the news conference, noting that least 17,000 kits were sent out for testing between 2000 and 2003.
     He added that 49 indictments have been made based on DNA results those kits produced.
     The bureau has not returned two phone calls seeking comment on the grants announced Monday. The Justice Department has also not returned a request for information on the progress of putting a dent in the backlog.
     End the Backlog, an initiative of Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation, puts the number of untested kits in the hundreds of thousands on its website.

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