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

by Joyful Heart Foundation
Nov 1, 2012

Rape Kit Reform

Collaborating to Bring Expertise, Guidance and a National Perspective

Partnership in Detroit

“Last year, Joyful Heart's CEO, Maile Zambuto, said, ‘Detroit, we will not forget you.’ And I am here to say that she kept her promise. Joyful Heart now provides us with expertise, guidance and a national perspective. They are helping to find ways to secure the funds needed to test the remaining kits and ensuring that all efforts to end this atrocity, including the creation of a victim notification process, remain victim-centered.”
—Kym Worthy, Wayne County Prosecutor

In 2011, Joyful Heart joined in partnership with the city of Detroit, Michigan to participate in a groundbreaking project funded by the National Institute of Justice Strategic Approaches to Sexual Assault Kit Evidence action-research grant. We are part of a multidisciplinary team of police, prosecutors,  crime lab personnel, city leaders and advocates who are analyzing the causes of Detroit’s backlog of 11,000 untested rape kits and developing and  implementing a plan for testing. As testing begins, we are already seeing powerful examples of how testing rape kits can solve crime and bring healing and justice to survivors. For example, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office has already identified 21 potential serial rapists from the first 153 rape kits  that have been tested and entered into CODIS, the national DNA database.

Victim Notification

Despite expectations that law enforcement will notify a survivor when they ultimately test her rape kit, we have learned that many jurisdictions do not have formal processes for notification. Most survivors never receive any information about their rape kits or their cases if their kits have become part of the backlog. If they do, the process is often piecemeal and fails to account for possible re-traumatization and lasting personal and family consequences that may come with it.

In conjunction with our work on the rape kit backlog, we are drawing attention to the need to ensure that survivors whose cases are years old—sometimes decades—are notified that their kits are part of the backlog, a process we refer to as victim notification. We are conducting groundbreaking research on how  jurisdictions across the country have and should approach victim notification. Since our research began,  we have conducted 84 interviews with advocates, members of law enforcement, prosecutors, researchers, clinicians, crime lab analysts, policymakers and survivors in 36 jurisdictions across the United States. In the coming year, we will host a two-day retreat and focus group for the specific purpose of giving voice to the experiences of hundreds of survivors who reported  their assaults and whose kits were part of a backlog.

We plan to issue a report on our findings, which will  serve as the first comprehensive resource on how jurisdictions across the country are implementing victim notification programs, the lessons learned in developing those programs and best practices for notification based on the specifics of the case. Our intention is to use and share this research so that we end the rape kit backlog with reforms that are just, compassionate and survivor-centered.

"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…I would be able to have that information [for] the rest of my life.”
—Survivor who never received information about her kit


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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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