Mariska Hargitay, who plays detective Olivia Benson on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, wants the US to get serious about rape. She’s launched a victims advocacy group called the Joyful Heart Foundation, initiated a “No More” campaign, and chosen an icon—a blue doughnut—that she hopes will become as familiar as the pink ribbon associated with breast cancer.
Hargitay’s involvement with victims began about 15 years ago when she began researching her role on the TV show. She was horrified to learn that hundreds of thousands of “rape kits”—evidence collected from alleged victims of sexual assault—have never been processed. The kits, which typically include clothing fibers, hairs, and DNA swabs, take several hours to collect. Victims describe the experience as invasive and humiliating. The cost of processing a kit ranges from $1,200 and $1,500.
Those unprocessed kits mean that hundreds of thousands of victims—mostly women—have never been given an opportunity for justice. Even worse, their attackers remain free to rape again.
Hargitay has been pushing for law enforcement agencies to clear their backlogs of unprocessed kits, and her persistence is paying off. Detroit recently processed 400 kits, identified 23 serial rapists as a result, and obtained three convictions. But 11,000 rape kits, some 20 years old, are still in storage in Detroit.
In New York, Hargitay successfully lobbied for a database that includes DNA samples from anyone convicted of a crime, and it’s helping police identify and prosecute rapists. New York has gone on to clear its backlog of 17,000 kits, and its arrest rate increased from 40 percent to 70 percent, according to Hargitay. Los Angeles has cleared its 12,669 kits.
“No more” is only a two-word phrase. But when it’s uttered by a popular media personality who’s taken a strong stand against wrongdoing, “No more” can be a powerful force for change.
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Jean Reynolds, Ph.D. is Professor Emeritus of English at Polk State College, where she taught report writing and communication skills in the criminal justice program. She is the author of seven books, including Police Talk (Pearson), co-written with the late Mary Mariani. Visit her website at www.YourPoliceWrite.com for free report writing resources. Go to www.Amazon.com for a free preview of her book The Criminal Justice Report Writing Guide for Officers. Dr. Reynolds is the police report writing expert for Law Enforcement Today.