FACT SHEET: Investments to Reduce the National Rape Kit Backlog and Combat Violence Against Women
“It’s the single-most significant and direct way to measure the character of a nation -- when violence against women is no longer societally accepted, no longer kept secret, when everyone understands that even one case is too many. That’s when it will change.”
-Vice President Joe Biden, September 2014
Today, Vice President Biden will deliver remarks in Maryland to highlight the Administration’s new Sexual Assault Kit Initiative, which is investing $41 million this year to help communities accelerate testing of the estimated 400,000 rape kits that have been backlogged in law enforcement storage rooms and crime labs across the country. This is a problem which prevents or delays the prosecution of sexual assault crimes. In addition to this initiative to address the backlog, the Administration invested an unprecedented $430 million in violence against women programs in Fiscal Year (“FY”) 2015.
The President’s FY 2016 Budget proposes an additional $41 million to continue the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative as well as $20 million for research under the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice. This funding aims to identify more effective and efficient strategies to reduce the backlog of sexual assault kits and to prevent future backlogs from occurring.
Audio of the Vice President’s remarks at 12:30 PM ET will be available at obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/live.
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
A sexual assault kit, or “rape kit,” is a medical kit used to collect evidence from the body and clothing of a victim of rape or sexual assault. The rape kit generally contains tools such as swabs, tubes, glass slides, containers, and plastic bags. These items are used to collect and preserve fibers from clothing, hair, and bodily fluids, which can help identify DNA and other forensic evidence left by a perpetrator. Rape kits, when tested by crime labs, have proven vital to successful investigations and prosecutions of sexual assault crimes, and thus to holding perpetrators accountable. Testing rape kits can lead to new DNA matches in the criminal database, identification of serial rapists, and increased rates of arrest and prosecution of perpetrators, leading to improved public safety.
The number of kits backlogged in crime labs—meaning those that have been submitted for testing over 90 days ago—is thought to be around several hundred thousand. But over the past decade, law enforcement agencies around the nation have discovered scores of kits in storage facilities, and it isn’t known how many other jurisdictions have similar problems. Some of these kits have been booked into evidence in police evidence storage facilities but the detective and/or prosecutor has not requested DNA analysis. Other kits have been submitted for testing in crime lab facilities, but are awaiting DNA analysis and have not been tested in a timely manner.
To better understand the factors causing the backlog and assess strategies for accelerating the submission of rape kits to crime labs, in 2011, the Administration, in conjunction with businesses and foundations, funded pilot projects in Detroit, Michigan and Houston, Texas. The results of these pilots demonstrate that progress can be made to reduce the backlog and identify and convict perpetrators, though challenges still remain. In Detroit in 2009, 11,000 untested rape kits were found in an abandoned police storage unit. As of January 2015, a team of law enforcement officers, prosecutors, researchers and advocates had tested 2,000 kits as part of the pilot project. The testing resulted in approximately 760 DNA matches and led to the identification of 188 serial offenders and 15 convictions.
To implement the successful strategies identified in the pilots in more communities across the country, the President’s FY2015 budget proposed the creation of the new Sexual Assault Kit Initiative. The Administration secured $41 million for this Initiative to help state, local, and tribal law enforcement and prosecutors’ offices take action to reduce the rape kit backlog. The Department of Justice is accepting applications for this competitive grant through May 7, 2015.
The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative complements past legislation to address DNA backlogs, including the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting (SAFER) Act, passed by Congress as part of the 2013 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). SAFER focuses on ending the rape kit backlog. The Sexual Assault Kit Initiative also builds upon the Debbie Smith Act of 2004, which amended the DNA Analysis Backlog Elimination Act of 2000 to include DNA testing of sexual assault kits.
Additional Investments in the President’s Fiscal Year 2016 Budget Proposal to Combat Violence Against Women
The President’s FY 2016 Budget requests an unprecedented $473.5 million for the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office on Violence Against Women to combat and respond to violent crimes against women. This request includes $41 million to continue the Sexual Assault Kit Initiative and $20 million for research under the Department of Justice’s National Institute of Justice in order to identify more effective and efficient strategies for reducing the backlog of sexual assault kits. It also includes $193 million for STOP Grants to Combat Violence Against Women, $27 million for the Sexual Assault Services Program (SASP), and $26 million to reduce violent crimes against women on campus, and funds two new initiatives in the Office on Violence Against Women:
- $21 million for the Violence Against Women 20/20 Initiative, which aims to implement substantial, targeted projects that can be utilized in diverse communities across the country and serve as models that can be replicated across the nation, and
- $5 million for a new Tribal Special Domestic Violence Criminal Jurisdiction grant program to support tribes in strengthening their criminal justice systems, providing indigent defense counsel, developing appropriate jury pools, and assisting victims.
Highlights of the Administration’s Record Fighting Violence Against Women
From their first day in the White House, the President and Vice President have been committed to addressing violence against women and have taken action. For example:
- VAWA 2013’s “special domestic violence criminal jurisdiction” (SDVCJ) took effect. This Act recognizes tribes’ inherent power to exercise jurisdiction over non-Indian perpetrators who commit acts of domestic or dating violence or violate certain protection orders in Indian country.
- The President established the White House Task Force to Protect Students from Sexual Assault. After 27 listening sessions with stakeholders across the country, the Task Force released its first report – Not Alone – with new recommendations for schools to prevent and respond to sexual assault and new steps by federal agencies to improve enforcement of federal laws. The work of the Task Force is ongoing.
- The Task Force launched the 1is2many PSA aimed at spreading the word that one victim is too many. The campaign launched on the 20th Anniversary of VAWA.
- The President and Vice President unveiled a new public awareness and education campaign: “It’s On Us.” The campaign seeks to engage college students and all members of campus communities in a dialogue around effectively responding to and preventing sexual assault in the first place.
- The Vice President celebrated the 20th anniversary of VAWA at the National Archives and called for a renewed focus on civil rights and equal protection of women.
- The Affordable Care Act of 2010 began prohibiting insurance companies, healthcare providers, and health programs that receive federal financial assistance from denying coverage to women based on many factors, including being a survivor of domestic or sexual violence.
- The President signed the third reauthorization of VAWA, creating new protections for LGBT victims, immigrant women, and Native American women. The legislation also expands housing protections for victims of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking, and directs resources towards improving the criminal justice response to sexual assault.
- The Vice President and the Attorney General announced a new initiative to prevent domestic violence homicides. Using evidence-based lethality assessment tools, the initiative identifies victims at high risk and links them with immediate services.
- The President issued a memorandum directing federal agencies to develop policies to address domestic violence in the federal workforce and to assist survivors.
- The Affordable Care Act began requiring all new and non-grandfathered health plans to cover screening and brief counseling for domestic violence, and made it unlawful for plans to require cost sharing or deductibles for these services.
- The Vice President kicked off the “1 is 2 Many” campaign, focusing on the high rates of dating violence and sexual assault experienced by teens and young adults. Through “1 is 2 Many,” the National Dating Abuse Helpline expanded to digital services, and new mobile apps were created to help prevent sexual assault and support survivors.
- The Department of Education sent new guidance to schools, colleges, and universities about their obligations under federal civil rights law to respond to and prevent sexual assault.
- The President signed the Affordable Care Act, which provides individuals who have experienced domestic, sexual, and dating violence with the economic security of affordable health insurance. Because of the law, most health plans must now cover preventive services, including screening and counseling for domestic or intimate partner violence, at no cost to the consumer. And insurers can no longer deny health coverage or charge a higher premium because a woman is a domestic violence survivor.
- The President appointed the first-ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women.