Federal Funding to Test Backlogged Rape Kits Stalls
By Amber Reumont
Currently, Congress is battling over the budgets of the Departments of Justice, Transportation, Commerce, Agriculture, and Housing and Urban Development. The bill in question proposes allotting $180 billion to these various government agencies. If passed, the funding would reinstate budget cuts formerly implemented by House Republicans. Associated Press points out that the money will fund, “transportation grants, boost funding to ease a testing backlog of rape kits and a new NASA rocket, and provide small budget hikes for the FBI, while maintaining rent subsidies for the poor.” The most pressing portion of the spending bill is the suggested $41 million allotted for the Department of Justice to process backlogged rape kits. Processing backlogged rape kits could put the perpetrators behind bars, securing justice for the victims and ensuring the safety of American citizens.
Though it is difficult to cultivate an estimate of the number of backlogged rape kits around the country, most cities with recorded numbers stretch far into the thousands. Because the federal government does not register untested rape kits, the numbers are unknown for most cities, including Baltimore. However, Erika Eichelberger of Mother Jones reveals, “The states with the largest known backlogs are Texas and Tennessee, which each have 20,000 untested kits sitting in storage.” Additionally, it is estimated that the rape kit backlog around the country reaches 100,000, and many of those kits could be more than ten years old.
Rape kits consist of valuable DNA evidence such as semen, blood, saliva, and hair, so testing could lead to convictions for a crime with a very poor conviction rate. As law enforcement fails to bring assailants to justice, the current backlog continues the trend of devaluing rape victims. Due to the inactivity of the federal government, some state and local governments have taken it upon themselves to facilitate testing of the backlogged kits. In particular, Detroit began testing on their roughly 11,000 backlogged kits in 2009, and the results were very successful in spurring investigations and bringing charges. The New York Times explains, “When the first 2,000 were tested, more than 100 serial rapists were identified. To date, eight men have been sent to prison, and charges have been lodged against 61 others, who are now awaiting trial.” According to RAINN, merely three percent of rapists will ever serve time in prison. Testing backlogged kits could improve those statistics and encourage further reporting of a severely unreported crime.
Furthermore, the spending bill would especially help cities like Detroit, where funding for such endeavors is entirely lacking. The federal grant backed by the President, the House, and much of the Senate would provide the funding necessary for Detroit to test their remaining 9,000 kits. Due to its largely bipartisan support, the bill has already passed the deeply divided House of Representatives, yet disagreements in the Senate over unrelated amendments have brought the bills advancement to a standstill. Senate Minority Leader, Mitch McConnell, pushed for amendments to the bill which would restrict the EPA’s ability to govern coal-powered plants because of his deep ties to the coal industry. McConnell, whose Kentucky constituents are major coal supports, is focusing his powers on keeping his Senate seat rather than ensuring the safety of the people he serves. Arguments in the Senate over the amendments have largely put a stop to the spending bill, effectively eliminating funding to process the kits until another bill can be drafted. Testing the vast amount of backlogged rape kits around the country should be a nonpartisan issue of public health and safety, for testing can further the investigations necessary to convict rapists.