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Obama budget would fund reduction in national backlog of untested rape kits

In a White House conference call with reporters Wednesday afternoon, Attorney General Eric Holder said the issue of reducing the national backlog of untested rape kits "is not a partisan issue, it's not even a bipartisan issue, this is a non-partisan issue."

Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder asked Congress Wednesday to help them reduce the national backlog of rape kits by funding the $35M the president proposed in his budget released yesterday.
Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

AG Holder was joined on the call by Vice President Biden, who before leaving to speak to a foreign leader on the evolving story of Russia's hedgemony towards the Ukraine by effectively taking over bordering Crimea without a single shot being fired, recalled his history as a Washington lawmaker on addressing the issue of rape victims and how their offenders can be brought to justice.

"I thought i knew it all," he said, reflecting back to the early 1990s when he discovered how many rape kits were sitting in lockers across the country that had not been tested. Now that DNA databases exist, VP Biden noted that, with new tools that can link a rapist to other rapes or other crimes, women who forever changed their lifestyle because they didn't know their attackers were, can finally have piece of mind victims won't be stuck in "he-said-she-said" testimony.

Sexual violence is more than just a crime against individuals, the White House said today. "It threatens our families, it threatens our communities; ultimately, it threatens the entire country. It tears apart the fabric of our communities."

VP Biden, a former chairman of the Senate Judicial Committee, and AG Holder, who worked with him during the Clinton years in a different capacity, agreed that grant funding they hope Congress agrees to that will help local law enforcement agencies across the nation will provide the capacity to stop sexual assault, support those who have survived it, and bring perpetrators to justice.

The administration's FY2015 Budget provides $35 million for a new grant program to inventory and test rape kits, develop “cold case” units to pursue new investigative leads, and support victims throughout the process. AG Holder said gGrants will also be used to develop evidence-tracking systems, train law enforcement on sexual assault investigations, and conduct research on outcomes in sexual assault cases.

A rape kit is the forensic evidence, including DNA, collected from a survivor by a nurse or doctor after a rape or sexual assault occurs. It can be vital to successfully investigating these crimes and holding perpetrators accountable.

As budget cuts have become the norm in discussions between the White House and Congress, especially the Republican-led House of Representatives, staffing across the nation has undergone downsizing and testing equipment has become outdated. As of 2007, AG Holder said 43 percent of law enforcement agencies did not have computers to track forensic evidence. "We have been asked to do more with less ... but we cannot and will not allow budget cuts to come at expense of survivors of sexual assault," he said.

According to information from the White House, the budget the president released yesterday provides $423 million to reinforce efforts to combat and respond to violent crimes against women. Even though prior investments have helped civil and criminal justice systems be more responsive to victims, and even though rates of domestic violence have dropped and more perpetrators have been put behind bars, reducing such violence and meeting the needs of the 1.3 million women victimized by rape and sexual assault annually, and the nearly seven million victims of intimate partner violence each year, remains a critical priority.

This funding includes $193 million for STOP Grants to Combat Violence Against Women, $42 million to provide legal services to victims, $27 million for the Sexual Assault Services Program, and $11 million to reduce violent crimes against women on campus.

When a rape kit is tested, a unique DNA profile can often be identified and submitted to the FBI’s Combined DNA Index System (CODIS), which includes nationwide DNA samples from crime scenes, convicted offenders, and arrestees. DNA from crimes like rape and sexual assault can be matched to other samples in the database, identifying assailants and linking crimes together. A rape kit can identify an unknown attacker, confirm the identity of a known suspect, affirm a survivor’s story, and help catch serial rapists before they strike again.

Today, many rape kits are stored untested in police evidence rooms or backlogged at crime labs. But when jurisdictions test and follow-up on their backlogged kits, the results are encouraging: new DNA matches in the criminal database have been found, arrest rates for rape have jumped, and more serial rapists have been identified.

Additionally, the White House budget asks for $140 million for shelters, supportive services, and a national hotline for victims of domestic violence, including $10 million for an initiative that provides direct services to domestic victims of trafficking, trains service providers, and invests in data collection, research, and evaluation.

Vice President Biden observed that a few offenders are responsible for lots of crime. He said that it's now known that a single rapist has raped four to seven times. Closure for women, he said, is "knowing who did it and they were convicted" and behind bars. He noted that victimized women end up with chronic illnesses and diseases.

In Ohio, the issue of rape kits was used in 2010 by Mike DeWine, a Republican who criticized his Democratic opponent of the time, Richard Cordray, for now dealing better with rape kits.

"In Ohio, we owe it to each and every victim to do as much as possible to fully investigate each case, even if that case is 20 years old," AG DeWine said. "We have now tested more than 3,000 kits and we are nearing 1,000 hits in the CODIS database, and I would be happy to see other states have similar results."

Four years later, the Democrat out for the job, David Pepper, has made DeWine's handling of rape kits an issue in this year's campaign for Buckeye top cop.

The news article Obama budget would fund reduction in national backlog of untested rape kits appeared first on Columbus Government Examiner.

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