Sen. Kamala Harris is announcing her plan to eliminate the nationwide rape-kit backlog by the end of her first term, if she were to become president. The campaign plans to roll out the full plan on Thursday, and Harris plans to discuss it on Rachel Maddow's MSNBC show Thursday evening.
The proposal is to invest $1 billion in allowing states to fully close their rape-kit backlogs within four years, as well as implement reforms to prevent further backlogging. "On average, it costs $1,000 to $1,500 to test one rape kit," according to Harris' campaign. "The annual estimated cost of the program is $100 million, which is $2 million less than what taxpayers have reportedly spent on President Trump’s golf trips."
Medical professionals use rape kits to collect evidence while examining survivors of sexual assault, and the DNA in the kits can be a useful tool for solving and preventing crimes. In the past decade, about 225,000 known untested rape kits have been uncovered. End the Backlog, an organization focused on bringing awareness to the backlog, tracks the number of untested kits sitting in police departments and crime-lab storage facilities in individual U.S. states, with the total number being in the "hundreds of thousands," the organization estimates.
"The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault, and rape," Harris said in a statement provided to Refinery29. "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 2016, Harris backed California's legislation "to illuminate the state's invisible backlog of untested rape kits." In the U.S. Senate, she is a sponsor of The Survivors' Access to Supportive Care Act, which aims to make rape kits more accessible at hospitals nationwide.
States are required to implement certain reforms to get additional funding under Harris' plan, including annually counting and reporting the number of untested rape kits, giving survivors the right to know their kits' status, and increasing the kits' availability, especially in rural areas. States will have the option of working with the FBI to clear their backlogs or get federal funding to do their own processing.
The announcement comes amid news of billionaire investor Jeffrey Epstein being arraigned on two sex-trafficking-related charges in a New York federal court. Prosecutors say Epstein ran a sex-trafficking ring and sexually abused dozens of underage girls for years. Epstein has pleaded not guilty. Epstein faced similar charges more than a decade ago, and in 2008 he was able to strike up a lenient plea deal with Alexander Acosta, then the U.S. attorney in Miami, FL, and now President Donald Trump's Secretary of Labor. On Tuesday, Harris called for Acosta to resign. "We need leaders committed to fighting for justice for survivors of abuse, not protecting predators," she said.
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