Law and Order for Special Victims Becomes Real
A recent Associated Press story about the fact that possibly hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits across the country may finally be processed reminded me of the many episodes on the long lived television series “Law and Order: Special Victims Unit” where the lack of this evidence leads to dead ends in solving these crimes, most often against women and girls. And how frustrated and indignant the small screen detectives get, including Officer Olivia Benson, played by veteran actress Mariska Hargitay.The article revealed that in Memphis Tennessee alone there are more than 12,000 kits, among them kits from the 1980’s, and in the state of Texas more than 16,000, as the reporter Lucas L . Johnson 11 writes, “collecting dust in police evidence rooms.” Finally, however, there seems to be some movement in at least 17 states to do something about this, with various proposals meant to right this wrong against victims: measures requiring law enforcement agencies to analyze rape kits in a certain amount of time; bills that if passed would at least require an inventory to be done of those still untested. To get a handle on how many there are.
One advocacy agency for rape victims has estimated that there are about 400,000 untested kits nationwide, delaying prosecution, making it often futile in states like Tennessee to get a guilty verdict at all ,since there is an eight year statute of limitation on rape cases. Women who have been raped, and who then go through the thorough and often traumatizing forensic rape exam too often then learn that nothing will result from this process, that their cases remain open and are even dropped.
Last year, Congress recognized this injustice, this double victimization, by passing the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Act (SAFER), which calls for at least collecting reliable data on the status of all of this evidence and establishing better standards for the tracking, storage and use of DNA evidence in cases of sexual violence. The federal government is also now providing some funding to the states to help cover the costs of testing.
It turns out that actress who plays the special victims unit investigator has taken on the matter of untested rape kits as a real life advocate, lending her name and her voice. Hargitay held a news conference in Detroit Monday to raise awareness about the backlog of rape kits across the state, which are unable to be processed because the county prosecutor’s office is “severely understaffed” due to budget cuts, the Detroit News reports.
Some of the more than 10,000 rape kits that remain unprocessed in the county are from 25 years ago, past the statute of limitations.
Now Hargitay and her organization, the Joyful Heart Foundation, are stepping in to help with the backlog issue – which the actress described in Monday’s news conference as “the clearest and most shocking demonstration of how we regard these crimes in our country.” “Every day in the United States women and men take the courageous step of reporting their rape to the police,” Hargitay said Monday, according to the AP. “And because of what those individuals have suffered, their bodies are crime scenes. They’re living, breathing, feeling crime scenes from which doctors and nurses collect evidence in a sexual assault collection kit.”
Reproductive Justice includes the safety of women and girls, and sexual assault, especially abuse and assault without justice for the victim, is egregious.
Check up on what is happening in your state and let us know so we can continue to bear witness.