The Senate today is expected to approve $41 million in funding to process hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country.
The measure is part of the $51.2 billion Justice Department budget for 2015. The House passed the budget in May leaving the funds in tact. The bill has been up for consideration in the Senate since June 12, with a final vote expected today.
“Outrageous that 10s of thousands untested sex assault kits sitting in crime labs or police lockers, ” Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD) tweeted on Tuesday. “Victims must know they’re not forgotten.”
Critics of the funding question how the Justice Department is spending the money they already have. According to the Washington Post, the DOJ’s main source of rape kit analysis funding comes from the Debbie Smith DNA Backlog Grant Program, a $1.5 billion federal program authorized by Congress in 2004 to “assess the extent of the backlog in DNA analysis of rape kit samples,” but last summer, the Government Accountability Office found that a little more than half of those funds were appropriated from 2008 to 2012 without any explicit description of how the money was spent. Last year, Congress required that 75 percent of Debbie Smith funding be devoted to DNA testing and rape kit auditing.
“Each box holds within it vital evidence that is crucial to the safety of women everywhere,” Debbie Smith herself said to Congress in 2009 during a hearing on the rape kit backlog. “Can you imagine going through an exam like what goes on in one of those things for nothing? To know that you were just traumatized again, for it to sit on a shelf, it’s not fair.”
According to WXYZ in Detroit, authorities found 11,000 unprocessed rape kits in an abandoned Detroit Police storage facility in 2009. Authorities were able to identify over 100 serial rapists and ten convicted rapists after the first 1,600 were examined. Nationally, officials estimate there may be 400,000 unprocessed sex assault kits. In 2011, the Feminist Majority Foundation and Ms. magazine launched the “No More Excuses” campaign to reduce the rape kit backlog.
OpenCongress.org, accessed 6/18/14; Twitter.com/SenatorBarb, 6/17/14; Washington Post, 6/16/14; Government Printing Office, accessed 6/18/14; Government Accountability Office, 7/31/13; Feminist News Wire, 12/16/09; WXYZ Detroit, 3/10/14; Feminist Majority Foundation, 2011