*Panelists included Mariska Hargitay, Emmy Award winning actress, Law and Order: SVU & Founder, Joyful Heart Foundation**
**The Roundtable can be watched here**
(Washington, DC) – Today, Representatives Jackie Speier (D-CA), Annie Kuster (D-NH), Patrick Meehan (R-PA), and David Joyce (R-OH), the co-chairs of the Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence, held their first Task Force roundtable on the rape kit backlog and access to Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners.
· Mariska Hargitay, Emmy Award winning actress in Law and Order: SVU and Founder of the Joyful Heart Foundation,
· Lavinia Masters, Victim Advocate & Survivor of Sexual Violence
· Michael C. O’Malley, Cuyahoga County Prosecutor
· Richard A. Bell, Cuyahoga County Special Investigations Division Chief
· Dr. Jenifer Markowitz, Past-President & Government Affairs Committee Chair, International Association of Forensic Nurses
· Nathan James, Analyst in Crime Policy, Congressional Research Service
“It was incredible to hear the powerful stories of Mariska Hargitay, Lavinia Masters and all the participants at today’s roundtable,” said The Task Force Members. “Unfortunately, in communities across the country survivors do not have access to the resources and support we know they need. Congress owes it to survivors to ensure everyone is able to access qualified healthcare professionals if they experience a sexual assault. Additionally, it’s long past time we reduce the backlog of sexual assault evidence kits that remain untested around the country that are hampering the ability to bring perpetrators to justice. We thank all of the witnesses for being here today, and we look forward to using their input to inform the work of the Task Force as we take steps to address these important issues.”
"The ability of law enforcement, crime labs, and prosecutors to implement change often depends, in part, on whether additional resources and funding are dedicated to clearing backlogs and pursuing leads. The federal government has played a key role in helping jurisdictions address their backlogs by investing in justice for survivors, accountability for perpetrators, and safety for America’s communities," said Hargitay. "Although we have seen progress throughout the country, much work remains. I look forward to continuing this dialogue."
“DNA to me is a footprint from God and we should never let it sit on the shelf, we should never waste that blessing, because it’s our chance to bring closure and light to victims everywhere," said Masters. "These are lives sitting on these shelves. Lives are hanging in the balance. Victims are left to struggle and wonder ‘Where is my government? Where is my justice system? Where is my protector?’ This is long overdue. The time is now. It has to happen. We have to strike while the iron is in our hands.”
The Bipartisan Task Force to End Sexual Violence is raising awareness and proposing solutions to the challenges posed by sexual assault. The Task Force’s areas of focus include: K-12 education, campus sexual violence, the rape kit backlog, military sexual trauma, improved data and collection, online harassment, and law enforcement training.
The rape kit backlog consists of the untested kits that reside with law enforcement having never been submitted to a laboratory for testing, or to untested kits that have been submitted to crime labs but are delayed for testing for longer than 30 days. It is estimated that there are hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits nationally. Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANEs) complete a specialty training to learn how to collect evidence after an assault and provide trauma informed care for survivors. The group discussed the important role Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners play in treating survivors after an assault and the challenges associated with expanding the presence of these specialists in hospitals around the country.