This week in municipalities and states around the country, in a run up to Thanksgiving and what is arguably the annual season of conspicuous charity, “Give” days are being held. Citizens are urged to contribute financially to local nonprofits and schools, with incentives of matching gifts, Golden Ticket random money prizes, and other incentives, including free metro passes in some areas. In my town, the neighborhood email chat is buzzing with pitches for daycare centers for homeless children and urban wilderness preserves. In Minneapolis, there’s a running tally of the “votes” for Habitat for Humanity, a Twin Cities Dance company, an emergency assistance program – and the Minnesota Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC).
These are heartening efforts to encourage us to open our checkbooks and hearts, re-emphasizing the vast net of non-governmental organizations providing basic and enriching services and contributions to American society. As not for profit executive Wendy Smith observed in her book Give a Little: How your small donations Can Transform Our World, dimes (nearly) destroyed polio and five dollars can help beat malaria.
And then there’s great giving.
Such as the $35 million pledge just announced and reported in the New York Times this morning by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. to allocate money collected in civil forfeiture assets to help other cities and states tackle backlogs in testing rape kits. As I had talked about in a blog earlier this year, at one time NYC had 17,000 untested kits, a grossly unacceptable accumulation of potential evidence in what were admittedly some of that city’s most violent crimes, crimes against women and girls. As a result of outcry and ongoing pressure, this number was sharply reduced, resulting in a number of indictments connected to unsolved cases.
A rape kit is the collection of physical evidence that is gathered when a sexual assault victim is examined, the NY Times reporter explained, including DNA that can be linked back to suspects.
Any of us who have watched the perennially popular network series Law and Order Special Victims Unit are familiar with the centrality of this testing and the frustration when samples are not collected or are stacked on precinct shelves, forgotten. Joining the DA at the press conference heralding this revenue sharing bonanza was SVU star Mariska Hargitay, founder and president of the Joyful Heart Foundation, a rape victim’s advocacy organization that has focused on the issue of unprocessed rape kits for the last several years. This foundation will help distribute the new funds, which come from a several billion dollar settlement with BNP Paribas for violating financial sanctions, part of which went to the district attorney’s office directly and part to the city of New York – among other jurisdictions in the United States.
No money will go outside New York State until it has been determined that there are no untested rape kits within its borders. There will be a survey conducted to determine how many and where other languishing kits there are, estimated to be more than 200,000 at this point. Following this, local law enforcement agencies will be able to apply for funding to underwrite their testing: processing each kit costs between $500 to $1,000.
Great Giving indeed. And not testing an act of great reproductive injustice.