Patti’s POV: 17 Years of Denim Day & Still a Rape Kit Backlog

On April 27th, millions of people around the world will wear jeans on purpose to protest sexual violence in all its form as we activate POV’s 17th Annual Denim Day. Our theme, our mantra, is to teach the message that There is No Excuse And Never An Invitation To Rape. Seventeen years into this groundbreaking violence prevention campaign, national and now international thanks to our partnership with GUESS?, the renowned fashion brand, and we still have a rape kit backlog. During these campaigns we have often focused on a policy or educational theme that needs attention. The rape kit backlog is a key example.

For years, the main thrust of our policy efforts for our Denim Days in LA was the rape kit fiasco where law enforcement agencies were destroying, losing and contaminating the kits containing the evidence from the sexual assault exams to which victim/survivors submitted their bodies. We had our own scandal in Los Angeles particularly with the LAPD’s crisis in handling this important evidentiary issue. It took more than seven years of Denim Days and focused advocacy to resolve the problem here. It was complicated - monetary costs, priorities, training deficits, attitudes, gender bias and bad habits. As advocates, we felt that underlying it all was a potent disregard and disrespect for victims of sexual assault. But LAPD became allies on the issue, City and County leadership stepped up and we worked on the problem together and finally got the problem under control. That backlog of first 10,000 kits became 7,000 and finally the untested kits got tested. To accomplish this it actually required building a brand new Crime Lab on the campus of Cal State LA. Who knew it would take that much. But neglect, compounded always costs more time and more money… and more suffering.

Other states are still not caught up and many regions are problematic in collecting forensic evidence. There are 20 states that are dealing and reeling from their backlog crisis. Every state, city and law enforcement jurisdiction seems to have their own stance & struggle with getting this rectified. Sometimes too much diversity is not a good thing when it comes to developing policy and procedures that serve victim/survivors and the law. The Rape Kit backlog has come to the attention of the federal government. There was a federal law passed in 2013 which mandated that the Justice Department develop national standards for processing forensic evidence from sexual assault cases by September 2014. These protocols have yet to be published and disseminated.

Advocates and survivors have demanded that forensic medical exams and rape kit evidence be completed and analyzed and that victims must be notified of results. As a nation we are still not close to achieving this necessity. I want to give a shout out to our partners over at the Joyful Heart Foundation, founded by the intrepid Marishka Hargitay and steered by Maile Zambuto, have taken this issue on nationally, END THE BACKLOG. I know they won’t stop until this is done. Let’s support ending the backlog across the nation. Denim Day support these efforts. Please join in!

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Patricia Giggans
Founder, Denim Day in LA & USA campaign
Executive Director of Peace Over Violence