AP News reports that evidence from over 100,000 sexual assault cases has been sent for DNA testing thanks to money from a New York prosecutor and federal authorities. Over 1,000 arrests and hundreds of convictions in three years have been made as a result. An estimated 155,000 or more sexual assault evidence kits are still untested. Many persecutors that have been identified can’t be prosecuted due to legal time limits among other factors.
We have begun to rectify what has been a tragic failure of government and law enforcement at all levels — a decades-long, systematic denial of equal rights for women in the justice system,” Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said in a statement.
There have been calls in recent years to work through the rape kit backlog of samples collected but never tested for DNA. Advocates for victims see the backlog as proof that sexual assaults weren’t taken seriously enough.
Vance and the Department of Justice have worked together to send years-old kits to labs from various states. Big grants from Manhattan and Washington “infused this movement with resources” Ilse Knecht from the Joyful Heart Foundation, a sexual assault victims’ advocacy group, said.
“There’s a lot more to do,” she said, but “this was the right thing to do.”
Vance’s program was financed with $38 million from settlements in banking-related cases. It brought 55,000 untested rape kits to testing labs, which yielded 186 arrests and 64 convictions.
Another nearly 45,000 rape kits have been sent to labs by the Justice Department program, producing 899 prosecutions and 498 convictions and plea bargains. The Justice Department has invested $154 million over three years into the sexual assault kit initiative.
Knecht says the increased testing “means that the criminal justice system cares what happened to you.”