By Suzanne E. Morse/ Heartfelt Voices United
There is a hidden number in San Diego, one that barely anyone ever speaks about. That Number: 2,873. What is that number?
As of June, 2015, that is the amount of rape kits that lie unprocessed in storage facilities in San Diego, backlogged. That means there are 2,873 rape victims that have never received justice. And that upsets me. Does it upset you?
Let me start by saying that sexual assault has always been handled differently than other crimes. Nine out of ten rapists never see a day in jail. And yet, the amount and type of victims make this statistic chilling. Every 107 seconds, a person is sexually assaulted in this country. That amounts to about 293,000 people every year.
Fifteen percent of those sexual assault victims are children under the age of twelve. 126,000 children and 30 percent of those are between the ages of four and seven years old. There has been a lot of talk when it comes to sexual assault about buyers remorse and consent. But let me ask you this. How can a child under the age of twelve EVER give consent? And yet, nine out of ten rapists walk free.
One in six women and one in thirty-three men have experienced sexual assault in their lifetime. Approximately, four out of five assaults are committed by someone they know. Forty-seven percent are by a friend or acquaintance.
And yet. And yet. Nine out of ten rapists never spend a day in jail. There is no other crime where the public sits idly by and lets the criminals walk free.
The Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by Law & Order SVU actress, Mariska Hargitay, has been shining a light on these issues. Through their research, they discovered that there are close to 200,000 rape kits in the U.S. that have never been processed. They sit languishing in storage facilities all across the country. In June of 2015, the Joyful Heart Foundation, through their End The Backlog Project, counted 2,873 rape kits backlogged here in San Diego. That, to me, is justice stalled.
A rape kit is evidence collected from the victim’s body after the attack. It is an invasive procedure that takes anywhere from four to six hours to complete. Imagine. Going through an invasive procedure after being traumatized for four to six hours, only to have it discarded into a storage facility somewhere.
Testing rape kits sends a message to survivors that their cases matter, that we care about what happened to them. NOT testing the rape kits sends the opposite message. That their cases aren’t important. Testing rape kits helps identify the assailant, affirms the survivor’s story, discovers serial rapists, and can even exonerate innocent suspects. So why is there such a huge backlog?
Reasons for the backlog include crime lab resources being short on funding; lack of police resources and knowledge to test the rape kits; and detective and prosecutor discretion to not go forward with the case. I suspect the latter in San Diego. After all, we just survived a scandal with our former Mayor over sexual harassment allegations, and the Department of Justice’s findings of nine sexual predators among our police department. And yes, the finding of 2,873 rape kits backlogged in our finest city.
But there is hope on the horizon. Independent Mayoral Candidate, Lori Saldaña, has picked up the issue. She held a Press Conference on Tuesday, April 12th, to bring awareness to this travesty, and to push for San Diego officials to become more engaged in eradicating sexual violence. She plans to encourage San Diego officials and the public to actively participate in Denim Day on April 27th, as part of Sexual Assault Awareness Month in April. Denim Day was created in response to an Italian judge throwing out a rape conviction because the victim wore tight jeans.
And this problem can be fixed. Other large cities have already tackled the problem. New York City completed testing of their entire backlog and now serves as a model city for reform. Los Angeles has caught up their backlog. And Detroit, Cleveland, and Memphis are currently solving the problem. So it can be done.
Congress passed a $45 million spending bill through the Department of Justice in December 2015 to assist jurisdictions willing to address the problem to solve it. And the Joyful Heart Foundation provides their expertise to the jurisdiction on best practices to eliminate the backlog. So there are resources to fix this problem.
A month ago, at Lori Saldaña’s kickoff event, I wrote this number – 2,873 – on the back of one of her business cards and told her to carry it around with her on her campaign, to remind her of how many survivors are still waiting for justice. I am so very grateful to her that she took that number and has vowed to change it – to 0. Maybe now, instead of justice stalled, we will have justice served.
Suzanne E. Morse is the founder of Heartfelt Voices United