Sen. Kamala Harris on Thursday announced her proposal to invest $1 billion to eliminate the rape kit backlog nationwide.
The first of its kind from a 2020 Democratic candidate, the California Democrat’s plan would invest the money into states, allowing them to close their rape kit backlogs and prevent further buildups, within her first term as president if elected.
According to End the Backlog, a national non-profit organization, it costs on average $1,000 to $1,500 to test one kit. To receive the funding, states would have to implement various reforms like an annual count and report the number of untested kits, test newly-collected rape kits within a shortened time frame and track the status of kits.
The campaign linked this rollout to the news of Jeffery Epstein, the billionaire indicted this week on charges of sex trafficking and sexually assaulting teenage girls. On Tuesday, Harris called for US Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta, who formerly served as Miami US Attorney and cut the plea deal for Epstein, to resign.
“We need leaders committed to fighting for justice for survivors of abuse, not protecting predators,” she tweeted.
In a statement Thursday, Harris says the federal government should take charge in providing justice for assault victims.
“The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault and rape,” Harris said. “As California’s Attorney General, I committed resources and attention to clearing a backlog of 1,300 untested rape kits at state-run labs, and we got it done within my first year in office. We need the same focus at the national level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable.”
In January 2012, then-California Attorney General Harris announced that the state’s Department of Justice had cleared its backlog and reduced the rape kit analysis time to 30 days, down from an average of 90 to 120 days. According to a 2012 press release from her office, she did so by introducing new technology including robotics to reduce the time it took for evidence analysis. She was awarded the US Department of Justice’s Award for Professional Innovation in Victim Services for her work.
In an interview with CNN, RAINN President Scott Berkowitz said Harris’ new proposal would do wonders for ongoing efforts.
“The backlog has been a huge and ongoing problem, we’ve been making progress on it over time, but having that large of a federal commitment would do wonders for testing the rest of the cases that haven’t been tested yet,” Berkowitz said.
He framed the issue of testing rape kits as one beneficial for survivors and public safety as rapists are frequently serial offenders
“From the survivors’ standpoints, these kits are the result of really long, really unpleasant rape examinations where they soon after the assaults, they are poked and prodded and they gather everything from the victim’s body and the clothing. It’s the last thing anyone wants to go through and to put yourself through that and not have the evidence even tested is a terrible statement and demoralizing,” he said.
Thursday’s rollout is the latest of the California Democrat’s proposals centered around women. Harris has signaled that women, especially women of color, are in part of her pathway to the democratic nomination.
In May, Harris unveiled her “Reproductive Rights Act,” which would require states to prove abortion laws were constitutional after the passage of restrictive abortion policies from several states, including Alabama.