Biden, Holder promote rape kit testing

They want Congress to OK $35 million for processing backlogged kits nationwide, a proposal in Obama's 2015 budget plan

Rape kits like this one hold DNA and other evidence that is collected from a woman's body after she reports having been sexually assaulted.

Vice President Joe Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder will push Congress to fund a budget proposal intended to clear the backlog of unanalyzed rape kits in the United States.

The money is included in the $3.9 trillion spending plan for the 2015 budget year that Obama unveiled on Tuesday. He proposed that $35 million in grants be given to communities to address their most critical needs for investigating and prosecuting sexual assault, including the testing of unanalyzed rape kits.

The funds would be used to provide grants of unspecified amounts to states and local governments, spending that would require Congressional approval.

"We look forward to working with members of Congress from both parties to secure the passage of this budget proposal," Holder said on Wednesday while promoting the proposal. "This is not a partisan issue."

A similar grant was previously given to Detroit, which reported it had 10,995 untested kits collected between 1993 and 2006, according to U.S. Department of Justice documents.

It costs between $1,200 to $1,500 complete tests on each rape kit, according to the Detroit Crime Commission, which provides analytical support to the city's government.

Biden highlighted an analysis of just 1,600 of the backlogged kits in Detroit which led to the identification of 87 suspected serial rapists, and more than 14 convictions involving 10 defendants.

"By testing these rape kits we can identify serial rapists, put them behind bars and bring the ultimate nightmare of the woman raped to an end," Biden said.

Biden, who as a U.S. senator sponsored the Violence Against Women Act, said that testing thousands of rape kits sitting around police storage rooms and other areas is not a priority officials do not realize what valuable information they contain.

The kits hold DNA and other evidence that is collected from a woman's body after she reports having been sexually assaulted.

It isn't known how many kits need to be tested, Biden said.

In Memphis, Tenn., alone, there are more than 12,000 untested rape kits, going back to the 1980s, according to the New York–based Rape Kit Action Project, which has been tracking the backlogs through all 50 states.

Nationwide, the Department of Justice estimates, 400,000 rape kits have gone untested. Last year Congress recognized the backlog of untested rape kits as a national problem in passing the Sexual Assault Forensic Evidence Reporting Act, or SAFER, which seeks to provide data on the number of unsolved rape cases awaiting testing and establish better standards for the tracking, storage and use of DNA evidence in sexual assault cases.

Three states — Colorado, Illinois and Texas — have passed laws that mandate a statewide accounting of untested rape kits.

Holder cited a 2007 federal survey that said 43 percent of law enforcement agencies did not have computerized systems to track forensic evidence either in their property rooms or after the evidence was sent to crime labs. He said that was not acceptable.

"I recognize that government leaders and law enforcement officials across the country have been asked to do more with less, and especially in recent years," Holder said. "But the current state of affairs is simply unacceptable."

The grants also would pay to help develop "cold case" squads to investigate these rape cases, and to provide counseling and support for victims.

Republicans in the House of Representatives have dismissed Obama's budget as an election-year campaign pitch.

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