Update: Virginia to get $1.4M to test backlogged rape kits

Vice President Joe Biden and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. on Thursday announced they will devote a combined $79 million to combat the accumulation of untested sexual assault kits held by police agencies across the country.

The combined grants from the Manhattan DA and the U.S. Justice Department will provide funds to more than 40 law enforcement jurisdictions coast to coast to pay for crime-lab processing of some of the nation's tens of thousands of untested sexual assault evidence kits.

Virginia will receive $1,399,989 to test 2,034 kits. 

Other recipients of funding: city police departments in Tallahassee, Fla., Austin, Tex., and Flint, Mich., as well as statewide law enforcement agencies in Ohio, Kentucky, Wisconsin and California,among many others.

Vance characterized the combined grants as "the single largest contribution towards ending the rape kit backlog that has ever been made." At a typical processing cost of about $1,000 per rape kit, the money distributed to police agencies on Thursday could pay for the processing of untested evidence in nearly 40,000 sexual assault cases if it is used solely for the purpose of testing kits.

Attorney General Loretta Lynch pledged to never forget sexual assault victims.

"For anyone who has lost faith and lost hope as a result of a sexual crime, this is our pledge to you," Lynch said. "We will not forget you. We will not abandon you. Your peace of mind and your security are our top priorities. You are not alone, not now and not ever again."

At least 70,000 rape test kits collected by more than 1,000 law enforcement agencies have not been sent to crime labs for testing, a USA TODAY Media Network investigation published in July found.  While some law enforcement agencies test every sexual assault kit booked into evidence, others test as few as two in 10 due to inconsistent laws and policies between jurisdictions, and the lack of national protocols for handling the evidence.

Across the nation's 18,000 law enforcement agencies, the count of untested kits likely reaches into the hundreds of thousands. Testing costs approximately $1,000 per kit and money was among the reasons cited by some police agencies for why not all the sexual assault evidence is sent to crime labs.

 

"Right now, it's estimated there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits sitting in police storage facilities nationwide," Vance said. "What stands in the way of testing them is money and the will to get the job done."

In November 2014, Vance announced that his office would award up to $35 million to address the nation's accumulation of untested sexual assault kits, but increased his contribution by several million dollars on Thursday. In March, Biden announced that $41 million in funding to help eliminate the backlog of untested evidence.

The two funding streams targeted specifically toward alleviating rape kits backlogs are separate from broader annual allocations to the Justice Department for DNA testing. Attorney General Loretta Lynch joined Biden and Vance to announce the awards at a news conference in New York City.

Sexual assault kits contain forensic evidence collected from survivors of sex crimes through a painstaking process that can lead to valuable DNA evidence through crime lab testing. While testing the kits has proven to be effective in helping identify perpetrators through DNA matching in some sexual assault cases, tens of thousands of sexual assault kits remain untested in law enforcement evidence rooms across the country.

On Thursday, Vice President Biden called DNA technology a guilty person's worst nightmare.
 
"We've made gigantic progress, gigantic progress. And every bit of this progress has the opportunity to set women free and make them safer," Biden said.
 
The vice president said he and the attorney general are prepared to stand with victims of sexual assault. 


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