BALTIMORE (AP) — Vice President Joe Biden says $41 million in federal funds approved by Congress will help clear rape kit backlogs across the country and solve crimes.
Biden toured a Maryland State Police forensic laboratory in Pikesville on Monday and addressed the importance of clearing the backlog of an estimated 400,000 rape kits that remain untested throughout the U.S.
Biden said the federal funding will help local and state law enforcement agencies test the kits and train personnel.
"If we are able to test these rape kits, more crimes will be solved, more crimes will be prevented, and more women will be given back their lives," Biden said during a press conference. A rape kit, which includes swabs, tubes and glass slides, is used to collect and preserve any bodily fluids, fibers or forensic evidence left by a perpetrator.
Senators Barbara Mikulski and Ben Cardin, and Rep. C.A. "Dutch" Ruppersberger, all of Maryland, joined Biden at the laboratory.
Biden said that "testing rape kits should be an absolute priority for the United States of America: It works, it matters, it brings closure, it brings justice and that's why we're here."
The funding will be administered through grants, which law enforcement agencies can apply for. In addition to the $41 million, the federal 2016 budget proposes $20 million for research to identify the most efficient and effective strategies for reducing backlogs.
Mikulski, who recently announced that she will not seek reelection in 2016, called the funding "an absolute breakthrough."
"We want to make sure no victim is doubly victimized: by a violent attack from a predator, then by a system that's not equipped or willing to deal with the evidence," Mikulski said. "Behind every kit there's a victim, and behind every victim there's a predator. When you get a predator off the street, you not only do justice to the victim but prevent other victims from occurring."