Warning: This post may be triggering to survivors of sexual assault
My late father was a forensic scientist. For a long time I had wanted to be just like daddy when I grew up – but college Chemistry thwarted me. He worked for law enforcement in a crime lab and I can remember occasionally going to work with him when I was very young. Ah, the 80′s. When you could smoke at your desk and your 8 year old child could rollerskate the halls of a local crime lab. Anyways, I can remember seeing in one room (one he didn’t work in) this set of really cool clothing laid out. Wow, I said, can I have that shirt when you’re done with it?!? My father somberly told me no…..that it was part of an evidence kit for a teenage girl who had been badly hurt and it contained fluids and clues that they needed to catch who hurt her. I know now that was part of a rape kit. It must have been really hard for my dad to try and explain that to his young daughter without telling too much.
Last year I saw an episode of Law & Order: SVU that perhaps many of you also saw, or at least have read about. Mariska Hargitay, who plays Detective Olivia Benson on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, founded an organization called Joyful Heart in 2004 with the intent of helping survivors of sexual assault heal. One major movement that Ms. Hargitay has been behind is EndtheBacklog.org. She had the writers of the show include this information on the afore-mentioned episode wherein the team traveled to many large cities trying to catch a serial rapist only to find that the rape kits necessary to put the guy away were buried in a backlog many years old. Some of the kits had been in poor storage and the evidence was compromised and useless. Unfortunately, that part of the show was truth and “based on actual events”.
From the EndtheBacklog.org site:
With the crime of rape, a victim’s body is part of the crime scene. A sexual assault evidence kit (referred to here as a “rape kit”) is the collection of DNA evidence from a rape victim’s body. If the victim decides to report the crime to the police, the rape kit is booked into police evidence. Not every one of these booked rape kits will get tested and they become part of what we refer to as the rape kit backlog—untested rape kits in both police storage and crime lab facilities.
We consider every untested rape kit to be a backlogged kit.
In a minority of law enforcement jurisdictions in the United States—notably New York City, Los Angeles, and the state of Illinois—policy or law requires that every rape kit booked into police evidence is sent to the crime laboratory and tested.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of law enforcement jurisdictions do not require that every rape kit be tested. Experts in the federal government estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits in police and crime lab storage facilities throughout the United States.
This information makes me cry. It is painful to read and know, and I’m not a survivor of assault. I have no personal stake in this. But it is painful nonetheless.
This map on their site shows the current backlog estimations. While the numbers have drastically decreased in LA, and have been eliminated in NYC, plenty of other large cities still need help. In cities with the backlog the fault lays in the fact that the crime labs that law enforcement sends the kits to lack the resources, funding and/or personnel to test the kits in a timely manner. The places that don’t even require that every kit be tested needs to have their laws changed. It should be a national law but it’s not.
As soon as I learned about this, I wanted to do something. Raise money, raise awareness……just something. I’m hoping that raising awareness is enough. Please join me in writing about this on your blog. You can even re-post part of this if you want or you can write your own. But the point is: the more people who get involved, the sooner this will get turned around. We’re not the big, fat media but we are bloggers with readers. Below are the direct links so that you can immediately go take actions and let your voice be heard. Show your friends and family. The site even automates it for you. It’s so simple, and yet hopefully will be so effective. Even if only 1/4th of the readers on every blog that posts this take action and write their politicians and sign the petition…..it will still make a big impact. It is worth it even if I only get 10 more people to take action.
Speaking out works. Taking action works. Silence doesn’t. Politicians on every level need to hear your voice saying “this is unacceptable”.
That’s how many rapists get away with it on a national level. And this is merely based on the rape kits – this isn’t even taking into consideration how many women are raped and don’t report it. It isn’t easy to report the rape, it isn’t easy to handle having the rape kit done. So for the women who endured it, who stood up and said “I don’t want this bastard to get away with it”, let’s at least try to help ensure that their bravery wasn’t for nothing*.
Action Center – This is a direct link to EndtheBacklog.org’s action center where you can sign a petition and send off emails to the President, Vice President and your local representatives with a single click. You write your own message; give your story or just why you think this is important. Your emails will be sent. You can also choose on each one to send a letter and it will generate everything for you, just print it off and mail it in. To do the emails/letters, click on the orange “Actions” link underneath the words “Action Center” on this link.
Spread the Word – Quick and easy pre-written Tweets and Facebook posts with the necessary links/hashtags/etc
Join the Mailing List – signing up for this list keeps you updated on the organization’s latest efforts, and what more can be done to help
Get Help – If you are a survivor of sexual assault or know someone who is, this section contains many links and resources.
*And for the women who’ve been assaulted and never reported it – this isn’t a post to condemn you, and I hope that it doesn’t come off that way.