Millions of dollars will be allocated to law enforcement agencies across the country to test the massive backlog of neglected rape kits across the country, officials announced Thursday.
Vice President Joe Biden, U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, Jr. announced at a press conference in New York City that testing the tens of thousands of backlogged evidence kits could lead to the identification of suspected rapists.
Between the district attorney's office and the Department of Justice, the almost $80 million that is set aside is "the single largest contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog that has ever been made," said Vance.
Calling rape the ultimate violation that strips women of their dignity, Biden said testing the rape kits will finally give sexual assault survivors the justice they deserve.
"Fewer than roughly half of the women who are raped ever report the crime because they don't want to be raped again by the system," Biden said. "They don't want to go through it again especially when they think it will be to no avail."
The Manhattan District Attorney’s office will provide $38 million in forfeiture funds toward the tests. The Department of Justice has set aside $41 million.
Vance’s office is giving grants – ranging from $97,000 to $2 million – to 32 agencies to test more than 56,000 evidence kits. The funds are coming from settlements the district attorney’s office made with international banks that violated U.S. sanctions.
The Department of Justice will also provide grants – which were approved by Congress last fall – to test 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions.
In July, USA Today discovered hundreds of thousands of rape kits that sat untested in police departments across the country. In just 1,000 police agencies – a fraction of the country's 18,000 police departments – more than 70,000 kits were neglected.
In New York, 17,000 evidence kits were untested. Once those kits were tested, 49 indictments stemmed from the results in Manhattan alone. New York City remains free of any rape kit backlog.
Similarly, five years ago, Detroit prosecutor Kym Worthy discovered 10,000 untested kits. Once tested, the results yielded 487 suspected serial rapists and links to cases in 39 states, according to the Detroit Free Press.
Biden reiterated the widely-spread statistic that most rapists are repeat offenders and indicated that reducing the backlog will take serial rapists off the street. It will also help solve other crimes by matching DNA to that found at murder or burglary crime scenes.
Biden said that police agencies across the country now have the technology to investigate and prosecute rape cases and that the funds will now allow them to do so properly.
"DNA technology is a guilty person's worst enemy and an innocent person's greatest friend," Biden said.
The federal funding will also provide jurisdictions with recourses to reform their rape kit procedures, including inventorying kits, funding investigations and prosecutions, victims services, and tracking systems.
While New York does not have a statue of limitation on rape cases, Vance urged governors across the country to examine their laws and see "whether rape laws are protecting victims or criminals."
"To all the women awaiting justice, you are not forgotten," Vance said.
Mary Ann Georgantopoulos is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.
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