MANHATTAN (CN) – The U.S. government and New York City dedicated nearly $80 million Thursday for law-enforcement agencies across the nation to process thousands of backlogged rape kits.
Speaking at the office of the New York City chief medical examiner with U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch this morning, Vice President Joe Biden put the number of unprocessed kits nationwide at 70,000.
“How doubly invasive it is to have this rape-kit procedure occur after you’ve been violated,” only to have it then linger on a shelf for decades, Biden asked.
Most rape victims don’t report their crimes “because they don’t want to get raped again by the system,” Biden noted.
While Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Vance’s office is committing $38 million in grants to addressing that backlog, the Department of Justice will dedicate $41 million.
“It takes serial rapists off the street so every woman in every community is safer,” Biden said. “It sets women free, who have been victimized.”
Lynch promised justice for the victims whose DNA is supposed to be tested when they report having been raped.
“We will not forget you, we will not abandon you,” she said. “You are not alone. Not now and not ever again.”
Though forensic labs can use the data from a sexual-assault kit to identify unknown assailants or bolster a criminal case, authorities too often never process the kits because of insufficient resources.
The Justice Department’s Sexual Assault Kit Initiative grant program will test about 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions across the country. The funding was part of a federal spending bill passed by Congress last fall that Biden noted was funded, not by taxpayers, but by “ill-begotten” money authorities have seized.
Vance called the initiative “the best opportunity in a generation to take rapists out of our community.”
Last November, Vance committed to providing $35 million to help agencies across the nation test their backlogged kits. That number increased to $38 million on Thursday.
That money will come from settlements with international banks like BNP Paribas, HSBC Holdings and Standard Chartered Bank, he noted.
In an effort to keep costs down, the DA swung a deal with two private forensic labs to provide kits at about $675 – nearly half the nationwide average of up to $1,500.
The departments coordinated with each other to avoid duplicating grants, the DA’s office said.
By sending off 17,000 kits for testing between 2000 and 2003, New York City became the first in the nation to catch up on its backlogged kits, Vance noted. The DA was then able to file 49 indictments based on DNA “cold-case” hits.
Vance called the nation’s backlog a “tragic and long-standing failure of our government on all levels.”
“To all the woman awaiting justice, you are not forgotten,” he said.
Biden praised victims of sexual assault who come forward, and urged more to do so.
It takes an “enormous amount of courage” to speak out, said Biden, who has recently been flirting with a run for president.
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