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Federal Budget Includes $41 Million to End Rape Kit Backlog

A proposal for $41 million in President Obama's budget proposal would help New Mexico and others clear the backlog of untested rape kits. (Wikimedia Commons)
A proposal for $41 million in President Obama's budget proposal would help New Mexico and others clear the backlog of untested rape kits. (Wikimedia Commons)
February 10, 2016

SANTA FE, N.M. - Victims advocacy groups are hailing the inclusion of $41 million in President Barack Obama's proposed budget to help address the backlog of untested sexual assault evidence kits, also called rape kits, across the United States. In New Mexico, a 2015 audit discovered more than 5,400 untested rape kits in police evidence rooms.

Ilse Knecht, director of policy and advocacy for the Joyful Heart Foundation, says the money could go a long way toward eliminating New Mexico's backlog.

"New Mexico, along with other communities that did not apply or did not receive money under the first solicitation for this grant program, they will have that opportunity to apply again," says Knecht.

Funding to expand the state's forensic laboratories has been proposed during the current New Mexico legislative session, but budget writers say a revenue shortfall due to falling oil prices could make that difficult. A House-passed version of the budget is awaiting action by the state Senate.

Knecht says that testing the backlog of rape kits is not only the right thing to do, but can also go a long way toward making communities a safer place to live.

"Each one of these kits represents a survivor, and we believe that when jurisdictions test every rape kit they are going to solve crimes, they are going to bring answers and a path to justice for survivors," she says. "They are going to take dangerous criminals off the streets, and they could potentially exonerate the wrongfully convicted."

Knecht says this is the third straight year such funds have been included in the federal budget, totaling more than $86 million. The Joyful Heart Foundation is a national group that advocates for victims of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - NM