End the Backlog of Untested Rape Kits in the U.S.

by Joyful Heart Foundation
Feb 21, 2012

Creating Comprehensive Reform

We are happy to share with you that we have raised more than $5,500 to continue our work to end the backlog of untested rape kits and bring healing and justice to survivors of sexual assault. 

We know that rape kit reform takes time—truly lasting change in the way our criminal justice system and we as a community respond to sexual violence will not come overnight. In our last report, we gave you an introduction to our work in Detroit to end the city’s backlog of nearly 11,000 untested rape kits and support our collaborative partners through our Heal the Healers program. 

Our commitment to end Detroit’s backlog of untested rape kits extends beyond supporting the wellness of police, social workers and prosecutors and today, we’d like to share another brief snapshot of what your funding is making possible.

Research on Victim Notification and the Rape Kit Backlog

With the goal of engaging and empowering survivors in the criminal justice system during rape kit reform, we are conducting critical research on victim notification, which is the process of being in contact with and updating survivors on the status of their rape kit evidence. Our research is not just informing our work in Detroit, but will also aid jurisdictions across the country that are working to end their own backlogs.

We have seen that when jurisdictions end their backlogs, arrest rates double and more perpetrators are convicted. Survivors experience healing and justice, perpetrators are held accountable and sexual violence is prevented.

Once a rape kit is turned over to police custody, the survivor generally does not have a legal right to be informed of the status of this evidence. Police are not obligated to share whether the kit is sitting in a storage facility or in line to be tested, or whether the evidence contained in it has linked to a perpetrator. It may be years—if at all—before a survivor hears from law enforcement about the rape kit, particularly in jurisdictions with very large rape kit backlogs.

Part of our role in Detroit is to help discover, navigate and implement best practices for conducting victim notification. For the past several months, Joyful Heart’s team has been conducting research on victim notification practices and procedures throughout the country that can serve as a model for Detroit as kits from thousands of survivors are tested.

There is very little written on the topic of victim notification, especially as it relates to a rape kit backlog. The significance of this research therefore has the potential to be great. With dozens of primary documents collected from agencies across the country and over 50 interviews with police officers, advocates, prosecutors, government officials, trauma experts and survivors—and many more still to come—we plan to share the findings of this research within the year. Our goal is for the results to serve as a resource—the first of its kind—to Detroit and jurisdictions across the country working to enact victim-centered rape kit reform.

“There are times [when] it feels very old, and there are times when it feels like it happened yesterday. If I could know that the kit was available and could be tested even 25 years later, and the DNA could be identified as belonging to a certain person or persons, I would be able to have that information [for] the rest of my life.”

"I have visions of my kit sitting on a shelf, of those police officers tearing up my report. That has an effect. I would want to know if the kit was tested, resources were used and someone did what they were supposed to. In some small way, it mattered.”

– Survivors who have never been notified about the status of their rape kits

Your donations are making it possible for us to conduct this research and create lasting rape kit reform—step by step, community by community. We thank you for continuing to stand with us in making a difference in the way we respond to sexual violence in the United States.


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Organization Information

Joyful Heart Foundation

Location: New York, NY - USA
Website: http:/​/​www.joyfulheartfoundation.org
Project Leader:
Joanna Colangelo
New York, NY United States

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Combined with other sources of funding, this project raised enough money to fund the outlined activities and is no longer accepting donations.

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