Vice President Joe Biden urged Congress on Wednesday to approve a $35 million grant program to improve sexual assault investigations, including training police on sexual assault trauma, bolstering communication between law enforcement departments, and ending the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide.
The program is part of President Barack Obama’s 2015 budget proposal — meaning it is subject to congressional approval and may or may not actually become reality.
“None of us are pleased with the bipartisan deal cut in November,” Biden said on a call with reporters on the issue Wednesday. “But there are certain problems that cannot wait: One is violence against women in America.”
Attorney General Eric Holder emphasized the point, saying, “We cannot allow and will not allow budget cuts to come at the dispense of survivors of sexual assault.”
The administration’s push comes about a month after Obama announced a new initiative to address sexual assault on college campuses.
Biden specifically highlighted the need to address the backlog of these untested kits, stressing that they were key in arresting serial offenders whose DNA may be found in multiple kits.
“Studies show that law enforcement officials don’t prioritize testing rape victims because they don’t realize how valuable they can be,” Biden said. “You might have a guy pleading guilty on one case, and then you look at his DNA and it turns out he’s raped five other women.”
Biden specifically cited the problem in Detroit, in which after police tested 1,600 rape kits that had been sitting on their shelves, they found that there were 87 serial rapists. Their DNA was tied to cases in 22 other states, including Washington, D.C.
The Department of Justice and the National Institute of Justice would spearhead the movement to end the significant backlog of rape kits in crime labs, Attorney General Eric Holder said.
“This grant program is going to provide vital support to help prevent violent attacks and improve our response to violent assaults whenever they occur,” said Holder, arguing that we needed to “move into the 21st century” by closing research gaps, ending rape kit backlogs, and giving support to those who need it the most.
The proposal would also include funds for cold case detectives and prosecutors who can track down rapists and put the kits together, and counseling for victims of sexual violence.
“When a victim is raped her body is part of the crime scene,” Biden said, noting that the DNA left behind by an attacker needed to be put in a rape kit and indexed immediately.
“This is a national problem,” he said. “By testing these rape kits we can find serial rapists, put them behind bars, and get victims closure.”