Following the Democratic debates two weeks ago, Kamala Harris has shot up in the polls and emerged as a frontrunner among the hopefuls planning to challenge Donald Trump in 2020. Now, her campaign is starting to roll out some of the policies that Harris would champion as president, and she announced on Friday that she would make it a priority to cut the country’s backlog of tens of thousands of untested rape kits.
Harris said that she would invest $1 billion to help states process rape kits that could help authorities identify perpetrators of sexual assaults and prevent backlogs from happening in the future. In a series of tweets, Harris unveiled her plans and shared that the overall price tag on working through an approximate 225,000 kits would cost “about $2 million less each year than what taxpayers have spent on Trump’s golf trips.”
“The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault and rape,” Harris wrote on Twitter. “As California’s Attorney General, I committed resources and attention to clearing a backlog of 1,300 untested rape kits at state-run labs, and we got it done within my first year in office. We need the same focus at the national level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable.”
Rape kits are made up of DNA evidence collected in the immediate aftermath of sexual assault crimes, usually following investigations and lengthy medical examinations of victims. The DNA results are then rendered through the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS) so that police departments across the country can access information and help to identify criminals. However, throughout the last decade, reports have shown that many rape kits are just sitting in storage facilities, either because they haven’t been requested by detectives or prosecutors for analysis or because they’ve been backlogged because of resource or lack of policies. Organizations like End The Backlog and activists such as Mariska Hargitay have urged action on the issue, but too often, the response has been that ending the backlog would be costly—especially because no one knows exactly how many kits are out there.
Harris’ plan is the first of its kind among the 2020 candidates. Although former Vice President Joe Biden has also raised the issue, tweeting in January that “[a]n untested rape kit means a survivor without justice.” He noted his own action on the issue and issued a call to action, “Test every kit. Every single one.”