A PSA Makes Visceral The Human Impact Of The Rape Kit Backlog — And Calls For Change

"Hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested on shelves nationwide."

The backlog of rape kits in cities and towns across the country is a massive problem, and a new PSA from the Joyful Heart Foundation — an organization dedicated to healing, educating and empowering survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence, and child abuse — aims to highlight the substantial impact this devastating issue has on survivors.

Clocking in at exactly one minute, the PSA shows a young woman on a forklift being guided through shelves of people. She begins to describe her rapist in detail while seemingly looking around at the others in the hopes of finding him, but as the PSA draws to a close, the woman is ignored and placed on a shelf. She then comes to the heartbreaking realization that those on the shelves around her are actually forgotten rape survivors.

According to text in the PSA, it's estimated that "hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested on shelves nationwide," meaning "hundreds of thousands of rapists go free." 

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In a press release about this PSA given to HuffPost, the Joyful Heart Foundation stressed that it is meant to call attention to survivors' plight. "Behind every kit is a person — a sexual assault survivor — waiting for justice," the release states.

Joyful Heart's managing director, Sarah Haacke Byrd, added, "At its core, the rape kit backlog is about survivors. When a person is sexually assaulted and chooses to undergo the invasive four-to-six hour evidence collection examination at the hospital, they expect the kit will be tested and the evidence used to prosecute the attacker."

As this moving PSA illustrates, that's not the case.

However, in addition to the Joyful Heart Foundation's own efforts to get justice for survivors (an initiative within the organization called End the Backlog has reportedly led to the identification of almost 1,300 suspected serial rapists) lawmakers across the country are addressing backlogs in their own way. In December 2017, under the leadership of Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy, the city of Detroit finished processing over 11,000 rape kits dating back to as early as 1984, which subsequently led to the identification of more than 800 serial rapists and resulted in 127 convictions. The process, which undoubtedly helped prevent many rapes, took eight years to complete.

In California, nearly 14,000 kits are in the process of being tested, and Governor Jerry Brown signed two bills into law back in October which strengthen survivors' rights to know about the location and status of their kits.

On a national level, End the Backlog played a pivotal role in encouraging Congress to pass The SAFER Act, which increases funding to test and analyze DNA and helps crime labs audit and account for their rape kits. That act was signed into law by President Trump earlier this year.

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