These Women Are Leading The Fight To Investigate Unsolved Sexual Assaults And End The Rape Kit Backlog

Right now, there are tens of thousands of untested kits sitting in evidence storage facilities across the United States.

March 08, 2021
By: Aaron Rasmussen

Photo By: Ilse Knecht (right) [via Getty Images]

Photo By: Laura Rubeli (left) [via Joyful Heart Foundation]

Photo By: Linda Stewart [via Linda Stewart for Florida]

Camille Cooper, Vice President at RAINN (Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network)

As part of her goal to ensure sexual assault survivors get the justice they deserve, Camille Cooper has focused much of her career efforts on decreasing the huge amount of unanalyzed and untested sexual assault case evidence, otherwise known as the rape kit backlog. Cooper has said part of her job with RAINN is also to make sure Congress and legislators prioritize and provide funding for sexual assault survivors to receive the support and care they need, including access to forensic nurse examiners.

Ilse Knecht, Director of Policy and Advocacy at Joyful Heart Foundation

A 20-year victim advocacy veteran, Ilse Knecht is head of the Joyful Heart Foundation’s End the Backlog campaign, which endeavors, in part, to identify and reduce the tens of thousands of untested rape kits just sitting in evidence storage facilities. “We see often that women of color, or women who are disenfranchised or otherwise living on the margins of society, their kits just get put away or sometimes even destroyed,” she has said. Knecht has also pointed out that “behind every kit is a person — a sexual assault survivor — waiting for justice.”

Laura Rubeli, Program Associate at Joyful Heart Foundation

Laura Rubeli is formerly a cold case sexual assault victim advocate with the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. She currently works at Joyful Heart in New York, where she is “dedicated to providing a victim-centered and trauma-informed approach to reengage sexual assault victims back into the criminal justice system,” according to the Foundation’s website.

Florida Senator Linda Stewart

Florida Senator Linda Stewart recently introduced a bill, known as “Gail’s Law” for sexual assault survivor Gail Gardner, whose rape kit sat untested for 32 years but eventually connected her case with those of 15 other women. The bill would require her state’s Department of Law Enforcement to create and maintain a statewide database to help track sexual offense evidence kits. “I was proud to support the Legislature’s previous action to clear the backlog of sexual assault kits and ensure kits are tested in a timely manner,” Stewart said in a news release. “This bill continues that work and is an important next step demonstrating the state’s commitment to empowering sexual assault survivors.”