Manhattan DA’s Office Announces Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination at John Jay

Manhattan DA’s Office Announces Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination at John Jay

Manhattan DA’s Office Announces Sexual Assault Kit Backlog Elimination at John Jay

“The backlog of untested rape kits not only undermined justice and the perception and reality of equality, it also made every woman and every American less safe.” —Cyrus R. Vance, Manhattan District Attorney

“For decades the national backlog for sexual assault kits, which are known as rape kits, perpetuated what I think is a sizable injustice against sexual assault survivors, and in particular women, denying them the very basic civil rights under the law,” said Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr., at the “Test Every Kit” press conference at John Jay College on March 12, 2019. “The backlog of untested rape kits not only undermined justice and the perception and reality of equality, it also made every woman and every American less safe.” That’s why, in 2014, the Manhattan D.A.'s Office announced what was then an unprecedented three-year, 38-million-dollar, national investment to address this intergenerational injustice. By some accounts, there were hundreds of thousands of untested rape kits collecting dust in police storage facilities all across the country, representing thousands of sexual assault survivors who had never seen justice prevail.

“We tested 55,000 rape kits across 20 states. Of those kits we tested, more than 18,000 newly developed DNA profiles were extracted for biological evidence and uploaded into The Combined DNA Index System.” —Cyrus R. Vance, Manhattan District Attorney

“Using dollars we had seized in our prosecutions against major banks, we invested those 38 million dollars in 32 jurisdictions and 20 states, and then we asked congress to match our investment.” Thankfully, Congress acted, enabling the U.S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics to pledge an additional 41 million dollars toward ending the backlog.

Vance told the audience that the key was testing all rape kits, regardless of the facts of the case, or of any subjective interpretation regarding the merits of the case. Simply put, testing all rape kits helps identify subjects best, convict perpetrators, and prevent future offenses. “Not all cases could be solved, but I promised that every kit would be tested, and every hit from every kit would be investigated. And thus, we felt that we could begin to rectify what had been for far too long a tragic failure of our government and law enforcement at all levels, and a decades long systemic denial of legal rights,” said Vance. “So today, we're happy to announce that most of the results—leading to an end of the national rape kit backlog—are now in. We tested 55,000 rape kits across 20 states. Of those kits we tested, more than 18,000 newly developed DNA profiles were extracted for biological evidence and uploaded into The Combined DNA Index System. There will be more prosecutions, but that investment has already yielded 186 new arrests, and 64 convictions, including 47 sexual assault convictions.”

Karol V. Mason
Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College

“These women are not just survivors, they're warriors, they're advocates, and they're compelling us to make sure that we bring justice for them.” —Karol V. Mason, President of John Jay College

President Karol V. Mason, who had previously worked on the issue of sexual assault kit backlogs during her time in the Obama administration, commented on how proud she was seeing Vance’s hard work come to fruition. “I still remember when District Attorney Vance made his big announcement that he was going to use his asset funds to support eliminating sexual assault backlog across the country, not just in New York City,” said Mason. “He understood and recognized that this was a national problem and made an investment for all of us. I am grateful for his investment. It's not often that you get to see something at its creation, and then see what you thought would happen more than validated three years later. It is just the beginning of the work that we have to do. These women are not just survivors, they're warriors, they're advocates, and they're compelling us to make sure that we bring justice for them.”

As powerful as the statistics were, the most compelling part of the “Test Every Kit” press conference was the stories from the sexual assault survivors themselves. Their experiences put a personal face on the problem, emphasizing the importance of testing rape kits, and underscoring the problems within the criminal justice system when it comes to helping survivors of sexual assault.

Speaker at the “Testing Every Kit” press conference at John Jay College

“Having my kit finally tested was a catalyst for hope.” —Myisha

Myisha’s Story
In 2012, I was recently divorced and exploring my newly adult single life through the world of online dating. I had received a message from a man, named Nathan, asking if we could go out. I said I wasn't interested in a relationship with him, but that we could be friends and grab a drink. We ordered beers and when we left my legs felt strange, like Jell-O. From then on, my memories go in and out. I woke up in a cab outside a motel. He was asking if I could pay for a room because he didn't have money. I paid, knowing I was in no shape to drive, and then passed out. When I woke up again, we were in the room and he had his hand on my inner thigh. I said no. He hiked up my skirt, grabbed my hands, put them over my head and tightened his grip. I froze. I couldn't believe this was happening. After he went to sleep I quickly gathered my things and ran out. When the officers showed up they questioned Nathan, and came back stating, “He said it was consensual, and that you paid for the room.” The officer gave me his card with the case number on it and sent me on my way. At the scene, I was never offered a rape kit by the officers, so I decided on my own to get one. It wasn't until February 2017 that I got a knock on my door from a detective and a victim's advocate. They told me that they ran my rape kit and his DNA was identified. I and eight other brave women brought him to trial to seek justice. In the end, he was found guilty on all counts. We now await his sentencing, and are all so happy we got our long-awaited justice. Having my kit finally tested was a catalyst for hope.

Female speaker at the “Testing Every Kit” press conference at John Jay College

“My message to other victims is that it's okay to come forward, don't be scared. You will get through this, and your voice is your power.” –Justina

Justina’s Story
When I was 14 years old, a close family member sexually molested me. I told my mother who immediately called the police. When the cops arrived, they collected evidence and sent for my rape kit. I never heard from them again. Three years later, I was at work, and my brother called me and told me the police wanted to ask me questions about my attack. I was angry. It had been three years. Why hadn't they talked to me back then? I had been to counseling and had moved on with my life. But then my mother asked me to think of my nephew, what if this had happened to him? That is when I cooperated. I testified against him and he was found guilty and convicted. I also learned that there were several other young women, just like me, who had been attacked by him. He was sentenced to prison until 2037. My message to other victims is that it's okay to come forward, don't be scared. You will get through this, and your voice is your power.

one of the female speakers at the “Testing Every Kit” press conference at John Jay College

“Fifteen years later, a cold case detective told me they were reopening my case. They were able to run my rape kit. I felt both relief and shock.” –Tracy

Tracy’s Story
I was sexually assaulted in 2002 by someone, who at the time I thought was a friend. We went together to a mutual friend’s house to celebrate her birthday and around 2:30 A.M. I asked him to take me home, because I was tired. He said he just needed to stop by an apartment real quick and asked me to go in with him. As soon as I realized the apartment was vacant, I became uneasy and scared. That’s when he came up behind me, and started kissing me. I told him no, but he forcibly moved me to the ground and sexually assault me. I prayed that he would stop, and after what felt like an eternity, he finally did. On the drive home he asked me, “Can we still be friends?” Out of fear, I said yes, but I knew there was no way I could ever be friends with this man again. When I got home, I cried and thought to myself, “Why did this happen to me? What could I have done differently?” The police said they couldn't arrest my attacker because it was my word against his. They told me to get the rape kit done, so my mom took me. Then nothing happened for 15 years. Fifteen years later a cold case detective told me they were reopening my case. They were able to run my rape kit. I felt both relief and shock. My attacker was found guilty and sentenced to seven years for sexual assault and attempt to commit sexual assault.  

A female speaker at the “Testing Every Kit” press conference at John Jay College

“Right now, twenty-three years later, I am still waiting for justice to be served.” – Taywana

Taywana’s Story
On October 24 1996, a guy rang my doorbell and asked for a Derick Jackson. In my mind, I thought I knew a Derick Jackson, but I told him he had the wrong house. He stepped back and said, “I remember a Dwayne and Yolonda James used to live here, and they could sing.” I repeated, you're at the wrong house. Later on that night after putting my kids to bed, I laid down and fell asleep. When I woke up, I walked down the hallway to my living room, and the guy that was at my door earlier is in my living room looking out the window as if he's waiting for a ride. He charged me, over powered me, and cut every finger on my left hand. Now I'm wounded, I'm being raped, and I'm being held hostage with six of my seven babies in the house. I went to the police and in 1997, I was updated on my case and told that my attacker was in jail serving 25 years for the crime against me. Then in February of 2018, I went to visit a cousin who was mourning his grandfather. After a snowfall, we got a knock on the door and to my shock and horror it was the man who raped me. He was asking to shovel the snow for money. That’s when I realized I was lied to. I asked him flat out if he served time and he said he never did. I went to the local police department and asked to have his name run through the system. The only thing they could tell me was that it looked like a “cold case.” Right now, 23 years later, I am still waiting for justice to be served. I'm hurt and disgusted.

Providing Support to Survivors
Taking into account the different experiences each of these survivors bravely told the audience, Christopher E. Bromson, Executive Director of the Crime Victims Treatment Center, says it’s important for future law enforcement officials, lawyers, health care workers, and advocates to be ready to offer assistance to victims in a variety of scenarios. “We heard from four very different survivors who had four very different experiences. The more advocates can be open to that, the better prepared they will be. The Crime Victims Treatment Center provides a whole range of healing services to any survivor of a violent crime—the majority having experienced sexual assault or violence,” said Bromson. The center runs programs out of four New York City emergency departments where their group of volunteers work with the assault victims from the moment they enter the ER. “We're an advocate while their kit is being collected. We employ and train the people who are collecting the kits, making sure they are providing the best level of care possible,” explained Bromson. The volunteers are trained on how to collect the evidence, how to provide support to survivors, and how to work within different communities of survivors. But the support doesn’t stop there. “We're available in all sorts of ongoing healing capacities,” said Bromson. “Most clients are with us from six months to two years after their assault, and some have been with us for up to seven years. We're there with them every step of the way.”