Remarks as prepared for delivery
Thank you, District Attorney [Cyrus] Vance, for that kind introduction and for your unwavering partnership on this critical issue. Thanks also to Mariska Hargitay for your passionate advocacy and bold action through the Joyful Heart Foundation. And thank you to Vice President [Joe] Biden for your leadership, for your commitment and for your lifetime of distinguished service to the American people. It’s an honor to be here with all of you and it’s a privilege to announce this significant new step in our ongoing efforts to prevent sexual assault and eradicate sexual violence.
As you just heard from District Attorney Vance, the Justice Department has partnered with the New York County District Attorney’s Office to reduce or eliminate the number of sexual assault kits that go unsubmitted or untested. This comprehensive review will help to bring justice to thousands of victims who have had to wait for the turn of this technical wheel. But we would do these victims and all victims of sexual assault, a grave disservice if we did not also work to prevent this backlog – this delay on the road to justice – from continuing to recur. While the New York District Attorney’s Office will be paying directly to test currently backlogged kits, I am pleased to announce that the Justice Department – through our Bureau of Justice Assistance – will separately be providing $41 million to 20 jurisdictions in order to find out why these kits so often remain untested and to ensure that new sexual assault kits are tested promptly going forward. We will examine a variety of factors that may have contributed to the current backlog, such as evidence collection systems, storage methods, police practices, prosecutorial policies and laboratory procedures. We will support coordinated, victim-centered approaches that promote effective, efficient responses. And we will make sure that jurisdictions implement policies and procedures that encourage timely and effective testing while providing the meaningful support that survivors of these heinous crimes need and deserve, because no victim’s suffering should be extended one minute longer because of procedural issues.
I am hopeful that this funding will advance our mission of bringing help and healing to more victims and survivors across the country. I am optimistic about all that we will learn and accomplish as a result. And I am personally committed to promoting cutting-edge, evidence-based approaches like this one that strengthen our crime-fighting strategies, improve our services and create better outcomes for our communities.
The groundbreaking initiative we’re announcing today is part of the Justice Department’s longstanding efforts to support survivors of sexual violence and to bring abusers to justice. Since 2008, the National Institute of Justice has provided more than $825 million—more than $100 million per year—in grants to fund DNA analysis and forensic research, including the testing of sexual assault kits backlogged at crime labs. We have expanded support for populations that have an elevated risk of assault, like American Indian and Alaska Native populations, through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner–Sexual Assault Response Team Initiative. And just last week, the Justice Department’s Office on Violence Against Women announced the release of a new $2.8 million funding opportunity as part of OVW’s Sexual Assault Justice Initiative, a program designed to improve how the justice system handles sexual assault cases. That funding will provide approximately eight pilot sites with up to $400,000 per site to strengthen the prosecution of sexual assault and promote justice for victims. Collectively, the Justice Department’s wide-ranging work—through offices like the National Institute of Justice, the Office for Victims of Crime, the Bureau of Justice Assistance, the Office of Justice Programs and the Office on Violence Against Women—demonstrates our steadfast commitment to ensuring that sexual assault cases are thoroughly investigated; that victims are properly supported; and that perpetrators are promptly held accountable.
As we go forward, we will continue to search for new and innovative ways to bring important resources to bear in the service of this vital cause. We will continue to engage with and to overcome, new challenges and difficulties. And we will continue to stand with all those who have been affected by the devastating crime of sexual assault. For anyone who has felt isolated and afraid, for anyone that has lost faith or lost hope as a result of a sexual crime, this is our pledge to you: we will not forget you. We will not abandon you. Your peace of mind and your security are top priorities for the Department of Justice and for the Attorney General of the United States. You are not alone – not now and not ever again.
At this time, it is my honor and my pleasure to introduce an outstanding ally to the Department of Justice, a consummate public servant to the American people and a leader in the fight to end sexual assault: the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden.