part two: the light at the end of the backlog

read part one: the dark

CW: mention of rape and sexual assault

While the #metoo and #timesup movements have garnered extensive media attention, drawing the issue of rape and other unwanted sexual attention received by the female population into the spotlight – there is real concrete work being done behind the scenes to help survivors of rape receive justice.

Before #metoo and #timesup, Law & Order: SVU brought attention to the prevalence of rape and sexual assault. Premiering in 1999, the show stars Mariska Hargitay as Detective Olivia Benson, a courageous and compassionate NYPD detective always fighting for the victim. Before the show, television hadn’t given much airtime to the subject of sexual assault. The toll it takes on the survivor and the fight after assault is given prominence in the television show, a radical approach in 1999.

Mariska Hargitay began receiving fan mail after the show premiered. This fan mail was not typical, rather was survivors disclosing stories of sexual trauma to her, often for the very first time. The character of Olivia, who Mariska has been playing for 19 seasons, has profoundly affected her. It has brought her face to face with the high statistics of sexual assault, and the failure of these statistics to make headlines or receive attention from lawmakers. In 2004 Mariska set up Joyful Heart Foundation Foundation, which seeks to help survivors of sexual assault reclaim joy in their lives. The charity has grown enormously over the past 14 years. In 2010, untested rape kits became the charity’s top priority, and so END THE BACKLOG was born.  

END THE BACKLOG is a programme started by the Joyful Heart Foundation, a non-profit organisation created by the actor and activist Mariska Hargitay. Mariska is best known as Detective Olivia Benson in Law & Order: SVU. She has starred in 19 seasons of Law & Order: SVU, where she plays a courageous and compassionate detective always fighting for the victim. Taylor Swift even has a cat named after this very badass character.

"To me, the backlog is one of the clearest and most shocking demonstrations of how we regard these crimes in our society. Testing rape kits sends a fundamental and crucial message to victims of sexual violence: You matter. What happened to you matters. Your case matters. For that reason, The Joyful Heart Foundation, which I founded in 2004, has made ending the rape kit backlog our #1 advocacy priority."

- Mariska Hargitay

When an individual is sexually assaulted, their body becomes a crime scene. Once reported, the sexual assault victim’s entire body is examined for any DNA left by the attacker. This process takes four to six hours and involves the survivor being re-invaded by medical professionals as a means of collecting evidence. After this process, the evidence is preserved in a rape kit.

This DNA could help to catch perpetrators and stop further rapes from happening. Testing the DNA helps the survivor receive justice. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested across the US. There are two parts to this backlog in the US. The first part consists of the many kits sitting untested in police evidence lockers, because detective and prosecutors never send them for DNA testing. The second part includes rape kits in crime lab facilities which have not been tested in a timely matter – over 30 days of receipt by the lab.

Majority of jurisdictions in the US do not have systems for counting or tracking rape kits, so it is unknown the exact number of rape kits sitting untested. This number is thought to be in hundreds of thousands. In addition, there is no federal law mandating the tracking and testing of rape kits.

END THE BACKLOG has and continues to help fight sexual assault in a concrete way. By expanding the national dialogue on rape kit testing through increased public awareness, engaging communities and government agencies and advocating for comprehensive rape kit reform legislation and policies at the local, state and federal levels END THE BACKLOG is helping to make real changes to help survivors and send the important message that we must take rape seriously.

To see what you can do to help, visit