Mariska Hargitay, daughter of famed Hollywood starlet Jayne Mansfield, has seen a considerable amount of success herself. She stars on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, and it is her role there as Olivia Benson, working in a unit that investigates sexually related crimes, that informed her latest effort.
When someone is sexually assaulted, there is a process for collecting evidence called a sexual assault evidence kit. These are commonly called “rape kits.” Collecting the evidence quickly and effectively is incredibly important because the victim is unable to shower until that evidence is collected. The victim’s body is literally a crime scene.
But collecting the evidence is actually not the toughest part for law enforcement. It costs from $500 to $1000 to process the DNA evidence collected by the kits. If there is a case where police have a good suspect, they will prioritize those cases first for processing.
Other kits may be shelved until such a time as the municipality can afford to get the testing processed, or a suspect becomes apparent. The problem with this is that it causes possible avenues of investigation to remain hidden.
What if there are a dozen “rape kits” on the shelf, waiting to be processed, that reveal the same assailant? What if a pattern could be established, a profile deduced, and rapes prevented?
But there are tens of thousands of kits sitting unprocessed. 11,000 untested rape kits were discovered in Detroit alone, due to that city’s financial straits
“Each day as we struggled for funds, the rape kits got older and older and older, and victims were denied justice yet another day, another month, another year,” Kim Worthy, the prosecutor for Wayne County, which includes Detroit said. “And the rapists kept on raping and committing other crimes…these rapists did not stay in Detroit.”
With that in mind, Mariska Hargitay runs the Joyful Heart Foundation to help sex assault survivors. Their mission is "to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues."
Hargitay has been crusading for funding that can help get these unprocessed rape kits off the shelves and into labs.
Now it looks like those efforts will start paying off. New York will be getting $440 million dollars from a settlement with a French bank that used New York banks to launder money for illegal clients. Some of that money will now go to help clear the backlog of unprocessed rape kits around the country.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance announced:
“Today our office is announcing a $35 million commitment to help to eliminate the backlog of untested rape kits nationwide. The examination of those kits will provide DNA samples that I believe will solve previously unsolved sexual assaults throughout the country, and will bring some measure of closure to victims and survivors who have waited years for their cases to be resolved,” Mr. Vance said today at a press conference in his Manhattan office.
Mariska Hargitay praised Vance’s efforts to help law enforcement all over the nation, not just in New York, with that money.
“This is, hands down, the biggest investment that anyone has made to reduce the backlog of untested rape kits in the United States,” Hargitay said.
And that money can turn serious results. In Detroit alone, getting their backlog of rape kits tested has resulted in 188 serial rapists being identified. Prosecutions are coming, and victims are getting closure.