How did the rape kit backlog in the United States get so serious? How did we get to a place where there are roughly 400,000 untested rape kits nationwide, dating back as far as the 1980s, gathering dust as the cases they represent grow colder and colder? The answer, broadly, is a lack of funding, combined with a puzzling lack of interest by many local police departments in testing the rape kits. Police departments are slowly starting to understand that testing each and every rape kit is vital, though that still leaves the issue of money. But on Thursday, Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, backed by your personal hero Mariska Hargitay, pledged $35 million to test kits nationwide. To make things even better, it's money taken from a bank recently ordered to pay one of the largest civil settlements in history.
In addition to being a BAMF, Hargitay is founder and CEO of the Joyful Heart Foundation, an organization that works to combat both rape and domestic violence. They've made backlog one of their main issues, and so, to their credit, has the Manhattan DA's office. In 2000, under previous DA Robert Morgenthau, the city had amassed 17,000 untested kits, which they slowly worked through over the next four years, leading, according to the New York Times, to 49 indictments connected to unsolved cases.
Vance, who took office in 2010, called the backlog "unacceptable," in an interview with the Times, "that when victims have undergone this rigorous process to have those kits just sit on a shelf." The $35 million his office has pledged comes from an enormous fine paid earlier this year by a French bank, BNP Paribas, who was caught doing business with countries sanctioned by the U.S.: Cuba, Iran and Sudan. The bank will pay $8.9 billion in all to the state and federal government for a long list of charges: conspiracy, falsifying records, and, of course, violating U.S. sanctions, which were put in place to make it harder for those states to sponsor terrorist groups.
This is the seventh bank asked to pay out a giant settlement in the last five years. Between them, HSBC, Standard Chartered, ING Bank, Barclays Bank, Credit Suisse and Lloyds TSB Bank have paid $12 billion, according to the Times, about half of which has gone into city and state general funds.
We know that these banks will likely continue engaging in shady business practices. JP Morgan alone has been fined again and again and again, most recently another $9 billion for their role in the mortgage crisis. And no one, seemingly, will ever go to jail, no matter how many times the people working for these banks blatantly break the law. (HSBC, for example, allowed both Hezbollah and Mexican drug cartels to launder money through their banks.)
So given that these huge settlements are going to keep coming, enriching the federal government as well as the Southern District of New York, where many of these cases are prosecuted, how about we make this a regular thing? Every big bank settlement should earmark, oh, $1 million for rape kit testing. It's pocket change in the scheme of these settlements, but it's enough to win, at long last, justice for thousands of rape victims nationwide.
Attorney General Eric Holder announcing the settlement with BNP Paribas in June. Image via AP