Biden, Holder push funds to test rape kit backlog

Vice President Biden and Attorney General Eric Holder called upon Congress Wednesday to approve funding for a new grant program aimed at clearing a national backlog of untested rape kits.

An untold number of sexual assault kits are “sitting in lockers in police storage areas or crime labs,” Biden said. Comparing the kits against databases containing DNA of convicted felons would yield valuable information leading to new arrests and charges against serial rapists, he said.

President Obama’s fiscal 2015 budget proposal, unveiled a day earlier, includes $35 million for the establishment of the program, directed at state and local law enforcement agencies.

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“We could solve a whole hell of a lot of crimes,” Biden told reporters during a conference call Wednesday afternoon.

The Rape Kit Action Project estimates there are roughly 100,000 sexual assault kits awaiting testing at public crime labs and as many as 300,000 more in storage. Each kit contains swabs taken from rape victims, clothing samples and other potential evidence collected after assaults.

But many cash-strapped agencies lack the resources to tackle the backlogs, Holder said.

“We cannot allow, and we will not allow, budget cuts to come at the expense of sexual assault survivors,” Holder said, urging lawmakers to approve the funding.

The request is part of Obama’s $3.9 trillion budget proposal, which has met with a lukewarm reception from congressional Republicans, who are wary of any new funding streams.

Biden, however, called the grant program a vital step toward prioritizing rape kit testing at state and local police departments in an effort to provide victims with “the ultimate closure” of seeing their attackers brought to justice.

“This is incredibly important to me, and the president and Eric,” he said.