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400,000 Rape Cases Have Not Been Solved, Because The Evidence Is Collecting Dust On The Shelves

'Testing rape kits should be an absolute priority for the United States of America,' says Vice President Biden

When the White House announced the “It’s On Us” campaign late last year, the message was clear: The federal government isn’t messing around when it comes to preventing sexual assaults. Now, as Joe Biden announced on Monday afternoon, our government is taking another important step to stand up for victims of sexual assault.

As “Yahoo” reports, the government has secured a whopping $41 million to help “clear the country’s massive rape kit backlog.” This phrase is used to refer to the “estimated 400,000 untested rape kits currently collecting dust on the shelves of police crime labs around the country.” If you think that number is outrageous, consider the fact that the actual number of kits is likely much higher; after all, law enforcement agencies “are not required to report” the number of untested kits.

But what, exactly, are rape kits? Often known as sexual assault forensic exam (SAFE) kits, rape kits are used to help collect physical evidence – especially DNA – after a sexual assault. These kits potentially contain evidence that could link perpetrators to their crimes, which could also empower more women to come forward, knowing that their stories would be believed.

As “Yahoo” explains, rape survivors “often wait years to see their attacker convicted only to find out that the valuable evidence needed to make that happen has never even been tested.” The evidence-collection process is so invasive – and often so fruitless – that some victims don’t even come forward to report their assaults.

So while $41 million is a significant financial investment, it’s one that makes sense. After all, as Vice President said in his speech, there are “certain problems that can’t wait.”

And Biden isn’t wrong; this is one problem that desperately needs a solution. 1 in 5 women are sexually assaulted at college, and someone is sexually assaulted every 2 minutes in the United States. This is such a prominent issue, in fact, that activists like Emma Sulkowicz, Andrea Pino, and Annie Clark are close to becoming household names thanks to their demands that college campuses take steps to prevent these crimes and protect the victims who come forward about their assaults.

Emma Sulkowicz/Kristina Budelis

But just because women – and men – are speaking out about their experiences doesn’t mean that they have found justice or support. In fact, as the new documentary “The Hunting Ground” reveals, they are often forced to answer victim-blaming questions. Many have watched as their accusers received laughable or negligible punishments for their offenses.

This, in addition to countless other reasons, is why eliminating the rape kit backlog is so important to dismantling rape culture. If we’re going to empower victims to come forward and report their assaults, the government at the very least needs to ensure that each victim has a shot at justice.

Thankfully, the $41 million earmarked to end the rape kit backlog will also “go towards preventing future backlogs by investing in specialized prosecutors, survivor counseling, and continued law enforcement training for reported rapes.”