Memphis Awarded $1.9 Million in Federal Funds from Cohen-Championed Rape Kit Backlog Reduction Program

September 10, 2015
Press Release

[WASHINGTON, DC] – Congressman Steve Cohen (TN-09) announced today that Memphis will receive $1,909,124 in federal funding to address the city’s backlog of untested rape kits following a successful grant application filed by Mayor A C Wharton’s administration. These funds come through the U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), a program created after Congressman Cohen successfully led the fight to increase federal rape kit funding by an additional $5 million during last year’s budget negotiations. Untested sexual assault kits are a significant public safety hazard that prevents law enforcement from apprehending violent criminals, increases the risk of additional crimes, and robs victims of the justice they deserve. The New York County District Attorney’s (NYDA) office, which has created a $38 million fund to fight the nationwide backlog, may award additional rape kit reduction funding to the City of Memphis later today as well.

“No one should be a victim of sexual assault, but it is a further travesty when communities are terrorized simply because evidence that could be used to prevent these crimes sits untested on a shelf.” said Congressman Cohen. “We know that these rape kits can help catch perpetrators and prevent additional attacks, so we should do everything we can to cut through this backlog and give victims the justice they deserve. It is a critical component of keeping our communities safe from predators. That’s why I was proud to champion this new grant program specifically aimed at cutting through the backlog and why I am pleased to announce that Mayor Wharton’s strong grant application has helped win our city almost $2 million in new federal funding to provide justice to victims.”

“I am pleased that both the DOJ and DANY recognize the work that the Sexual Assault Kit Taskforce is doing to test every kit in our inventory and to seek justice for every survivor these kits represent,” said Mayor Wharton. “These grants will allow us to continue the work that began two years ago using no additional City of Memphis tax dollars. Also, I am grateful to Congressman Steve Cohen for being a strong advocate for federal funding for this effort and to the Joyful Heart Foundation and many others for bringing attention to the need for funding to test this crucial evidence.”

Congressman Cohen authored a deficit-neutral provision included in the 2015 federal budget to transfer $5 million to a new grant program focused specifically on helping law enforcement agencies cut through their sexual assault kit backlogs. The additional funding increased the program’s budget by nearly 15%, from $36 million to $41 million. The Congressman is currently leading an effort in Congress to increase the program’s funding in next year’s budget by another $4 million, which would result in a total of $45 million for 2016. The House approved the additional funding earlier this year and this week Congressman Cohen and Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney (NY-12) sent letters to House and Senate appropriators to include the $4 million in their yet-to-be-negotiated budget for 2016. If successful, the Congressman’s efforts would constitute a 25% increase in funding from the level originally proposed for the new program.

Background on the SAKI grant program from the Department of Justice:

The National Sexual Assault Kit Initiative (SAKI), administered by the Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA), is a competitive grant program providing funding to support multidisciplinary community response teams engaged in comprehensive reform of jurisdictions’ approaches to sexual assault cases resulting from evidence found in previously unsubmitted sexual assault kits (SAKs). The focus of this effort is unsubmitted kits that have never been submitted to a crime lab. SAKI will enable grantees to produce necessary protocols and policies to improve coordination and collaboration among labs, police, prosecutors, and victim service providers in response to emergent evidence and casework; resources to comprehensively address sexual assault investigations and prosecutions that result from evidence and CODIS hits produced by tested SAKs.  Grantees will also support and optimize victim notification protocols and services.