(Press Release)On September 10, 2015, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., announced the award of approximately $38 million in grants to 32 jurisdictions in 20 states across the U.S. to eliminate backlogs of untested sexual assault evidence kits, or “rape kits.” The two-year awards, ranging in amount from approximately $97,000 to $2 million, will help test an estimated 56,475 rape kits, generating DNA evidence that will help solve cases across the country.
Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Loretta Lynch joined District Attorney Vance to announce the recipients of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance’s (BJA) separate, but complementary, $41 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (“SAKI”) Grant Program, which is expected to test nearly 13,500 kits in 20 jurisdictions.
“Today is a historic day for survivors of sexual assault across the country,” said District Attorney Vance. “Our $38 million investment means that more than 56,000 sexual assault kits will finally be tested, providing hope to tens of thousands of women who summoned the courage to report a rape and undergo an invasive examination. These grants will generate leads in thousands of cases across the country, some of them decades old. Tackling the national rape kit backlog means addressing a women’s and human rights issue that has been ignored for far too long. We are refusing to accept that some criminal justice problems are just too big – too ingrained, too controversial, too expensive – to solve.
“I would like to thank Vice President Biden and U.S. Attorney General Lynch for joining us to announce their own $41 million initiative, and for the dedication they have shown to this cause. Together, these grants represent the single largest contribution toward ending the rape kit backlog that has ever been made. I would also like to thank Mariska Hargitay for her relentless advocacy, as well as the many prosecutors, elected officials, survivors, and so many more who have worked tirelessly to draw attention to this injustice, and to end the national backlog.”
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Initiative
Sexual assault evidence kits, commonly known as “rape kits,” are collections of evidence taken during an invasive, lengthy examination conducted at a hospital or rape crisis center following a sexual assault. The DNA evidence contained in rape kits is a powerful tool for identifying suspects, convicting perpetrators, preventing future offenses, and even exonerating the innocent.
In November, District Attorney Vance committed an initial $35 million in funding, which has since grown to $38 million, to help jurisdictions nationwide test their backlogged rape kits. In December, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office asked interested jurisdictions to submit an Expression of Interest detailing the scope of their jurisdiction’s backlogs, which informed the Request for Proposals the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office issued in April 2015. Grant applicants were asked to submit information about the size and scope of their backlogs, their current testing policies, and their willingness to follow best practices determined by the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and its partners. States, territories, local governments, law enforcement agencies, and public forensic labs were all encouraged to apply for funding.
The Grant Recipients
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office is awarding funding to 32 jurisdiction in 20 states spanning from coast to coast. Every jurisdiction that applied for funding is receiving it through 3 either the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office or BJA; no city or state that reported a backlog was turned away. Awardees will be required to fund the testing of their kits initially, and will be reimbursed for their expenses each quarter after meeting prescribed performance measures.
In order to make the most effective use of the $38 million in funding, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office established agreements with two private forensic labs to secure competitive rates for testing kits. On average, kits tested through the initiative will cost less than $675 per kit – significantly less than the estimated nationwide average of $1,000 to $1,500 per kit.
Awards ranged from $97,305 to the Travis County Sheriff’s Office in Texas, which will test approximately 148 kits, to $1,999,982 to the Georgia State Criminal Justice Coordinating Council, which will test approximately 3,108 kits.
The U.S. Department of Justice’s $41 Million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative
Today, the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) simultaneously announced the recipients of funds from their $41 million Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (“SAKI”) Grant Program. The funding was contained in a federal spending bill approved by the United States Congress last fall to address the national rape kit backlog. BJA’s grant program aims to provide jurisdictions with resources to develop and implement comprehensive, multi-disciplinary rape kit reform, including testing and inventorying kits, funding investigations and prosecutions that stem from DNA hits, trainings, victim services, and tracking systems.
The Manhattan District Attorney’s Office and BJA worked together to ensure optimal coordination between each agency’s respective grant programs when selecting grantees, and to ensure that there is no duplication of services. Certain recipients of the Manhattan District Attorney’s funding will receive training and technical assistance from BJA, including participation in cross-jurisdictional training efforts, support for jurisdictions to determine the scope of their untested SAK inventories, and guidance for adherence to evidence-based, best practices for the testing and use of SAK evidence. In total, nine jurisdictions will receive funding from both the District Attorney’s Office and BJA.
“Rape Kits” and DNA Evidence
DNA from a rape kit in one jurisdiction may help to solve crimes in that jurisdiction, and in other jurisdictions across the country. In fact, according to the New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, as of July 2015, 3,252 DNA hits have been generated in New York from profiles entered into the national DNA databank.
In cases where a suspect has not yet been identified, biological evidence from the crime scene can be analyzed and compared to offender profiles in DNA databases, such as the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), to help identify the perpetrator. Crime scene evidence can also be linked to other crime scenes through the use of DNA databases to identify serial offenders, and arrests for lower-level crimes in one state might help solve a cold case in another state. DNA has also helped exonerate the wrongfully convicted. 4
New York City and State have long been leaders in DNA testing, and District Attorney Vance’s initiative expands on that success by developing best practices for testing, tracking, and utilizing rape kit evidence. Between 2000 and 2003, New York City sent out approximately 17,000 rape kits for testing, creating a model for other large cities to tackle their own backlogs. From those kits, the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office was able to file 49 indictments based on DNA cold case hits. Combined, those offenders are now serving more than 900 years in jail.