Things That Matter

Presidential Hopeful Kamala Harris Wants To Invest $1 Billion To Test The Shameful Backlog Of Rape Kits In The US

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Ahead of her scheduled appearance on the Rachel Maddow show, Kamala Harris made a huge announcement on Thursday. The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee and former District Attorney said that if she wins the White House, she wants to invest $1 billion to eliminate the rape kit backlog nationwide. 

Kamala Harris’ plan is the “first of its kind of a 2020 Democratic candidate, the California Democrat’s plan would invest the money into states, allowing them to close their rape kit backlogs and prevent further buildups, within her first term” if elected into the Oval Office, according to CNN

The 2020 Democratic presidential nominee tweeted that her plan to close the nationwide rape kit backlog “would cost about $2 million less each year than what taxpayers have spent on Trump’s golf trips.” 

According to CNN, “the campaign linked this rollout to the news of Jeffrey Epstein, the billionaire indicted this week on charges of sex trafficking and sexually assaulting teenage girls.” Earlier this week, when news broke, Harris also called for U.S. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta –– who served as Miami U.S. Attorney and cut the plea deal for Epstein –– to resign. 

“It’s time we had someone in the White House who is committed to fighting for survivors, not protecting predators,” she tweeted.  

According to END THE BACKLOG, a national non-profit organization founded by actress and activist Mariska Hargitay with the mission to transform society’s response to sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, “every 92 seconds, someone is assaulted in the United States.” 

END THE BACKLOG also reports that it is estimated that hundreds of thousands of rape kits sit untested in the police department and crime lab storage facilities across the country. This is what’s known as the rape kit backlog. But since most jurisdictions do not have systems in place for counting or tracking rape kits tested, END THE BACKLOG says “we cannot be sure of the total number of untested rape kits nationwide.” 

Rape kits are used by medical professionals to collect evidence while they examine survivors of sexual assault. The DNA extracted from rape kits is a useful tool to solve and prevent sexual assault crimes as well. Refinery29 reports that in the past decade, “about 225,000 known untested rape kits have been uncovered.” 

And while a growing number of states across the U.S. are fighting toward ending the backlog, there’s more work to be done. Since it costs an average $1,000 to $1,500 to test one rape kit, Harris’ plan to invest $1 billion to end rape kit backlog nationwide would hopefully make a powerful difference.  

In a statement to CNN, Harris said, “The federal government can and should prioritize justice for survivors of sex abuse, assault, and rape. As California’s Attorney General, I committed resources and attention to clearing a backlog of 1,300 untested rape kits at state-run labs, and we got it done within my first year in office. We need the same focus at the nationwide level to pursue justice and help hold predators accountable.” 

She also took to Instagram to announce her proposal of investing $1 billion to end rape kit backlog nationwide. In her caption, she wrote:

“In the last decade, roughly 225,000 untested rape kits have been uncovered. Too many survivors aren’t getting the justice they deserve. As president, I will close the nationwide rape kit backlog by the end of my first term.” 

According to USA Today, Harris’ proposal “states would receive additional funding for testing if they conduct an annual count and report of untested rape kits. The plan also would require law enforcement agencies to submit rape kits ‘within a short time frame,’ update victims who want to know about the status of testing of their rape kits and would increase the availability of rape kits for law enforcement, particularly in remote and rural areas.”  

CNN also interviewed RAINN President Scott Berkowitz said that Harris’ new proposal “would do wonders for ongoing efforts.”

“The backlog has been a huge and ongoing problem, we’ve been making progress on it over time, but having that large of a federal commitment would do wonders for testing the rest of the cases that haven’t been tested yet,” he said. 

“From the survivors’ standpoints, these kits are the result of really long, really unpleasant rape examinations where soon after the assaults, they are poked and prodded and they gather everything from the victim’s body and the clothing. It’s the last thing anyone wants to go through and to put yourself that and not have evidence even tested is a terrible statement and demoralizing,” he adds. 

Many women on social media were also open about how necessary and overdue this investment on the rape kit backlog would be. 

Hundreds Protest After Teen Girls Accuse Mexico City Police of Rape

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Hundreds Protest After Teen Girls Accuse Mexico City Police of Rape

Warning: This story is contains accounts of sexual assault, and can be disturbing to some of our readers.

Two weeks ago, four police officers were accused of raping a 17-year-old-girl in their patrol car. Two days later, another officer was accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in a museum. Friday night, protesters took to Mexico City streets armed with pink glitter and spray paint to demand justice for the teenagers, and all femicide victims in Mexico. The next day, Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum, the city’s first female mayor, announced the suspension of six police officers implicated in the first case. The officer on patrol at the museum has been arrested.

Still, after nearly a century of living under a police force that women are taught to fear, the women who started the #NoMeCuidanMeViolan (“They don’t take care of me, they rape me”) movement are demanding a declaration of a gender alert in the capital, and tangible action to end femicide.

An estimated 300 women flooded Mexico City streets, and even covered Mexico City’s Secretary in pink glitter.

@rosepetalflufff / Twitter

One officer had been arrested on the grounds of rape the day before the protest, but the four who allegedly gang raped a minor in their patrol car were still active duty on the force at the time of Friday night’s protests.

Signs from the protest ranged from, “My friends protect me, not the police,” to “Sailor Moon taught me that you can kill monsters with glitter.”

The women ended the march at the Angel monument, where they raised their held hands up high.

@AndreaMireille / Twitter

The Angel monument celebrates the independence of Mexico from Spain, and is the chosen setting for quinceañera photo shoots, and town celebrations. The monument is a symbol of justice and freedom.

The protesters didn’t feel heard by the government, so they made sure the public hears them.

@BirbFree / Twitter

The base of the Angel monument was covered in “Kill the Patriarchy” and “Rape State” phrases, along with a pink feminist symbol on the culo of the lion. By morning, city workers had already begun power washing and repainting the base, now barricaded from view by a wooden wall.

A spokesperson for the National Fine Arts Institute said they were assessing the damage, and that the institute “respects freedom of speech and offers support for actions to eradicate all forms of violence against women.”

Police body-barricaded the doors of their station after protesters spray painted “RAPISTS” on its windows.

@gringatears / Twitter

In a statement, Mayor Sheinbaum said she perceived the protest as a “provocation.” Sheinbaum thinks the protesters “wanted the government to respond with violence. But we’re not going to do that.” The protests ended five hours later around 11 p.m. when paramedics arrived to treat the injured, 14 of whom were police officers. Sheinbaum has said that there will be consequences for the violence.

The most recent rape cases ignited the fire of an already explosive rage beneath the surface for women in Mexico.

@solehdad / Twitter

The United Nations estimates that an average of nine women are murdered every day in Mexico. The UN defines femicide as the deliberate killing of a woman or girl because of their gender, often after other violent, sexual crimes.

The Mexican government’s records of femicide rates are so inaccurate, journalist María Salguero, 40, has taken it upon herself to create her own map of femicides in Mexico. Salguero suspects that the state seeks to minimize gender-based violence, so she tracks the femicides for herself. Using Google alerts, Salguero records all of Mexico’s femicidal horror stories of 11-year-old taking the bus home and being found in the very same bus the next day, raped and murdered.

Mexican police have a long history of brutality against women.

@occupyoccupy / Twitter

“In the late 90s cops kidnapped three girls, three underage girls,” tweets one #NoMeCuidanMeViolan protester. “They raped them, and forced them to clean, cook and do stuff for them. One of them escaped and that’s how this was known. The three families however experienced retaliation.”

These stories are embedded in the fabric of Mexican society. Women have taken to social media to share the lessons their mothers taught them: to run from police. Never make eye contact. “Police are well known in #MexicoCity for being the main source of violence and corruption,” a protester tweets. “In 100 years since the establishment is #Mexico as we know it, no one has brought the police to account.”

Other teenagers have taken to social media to deliver chilling anticipatory goodbyes to their families.

@homeak / Twitter

If Human Rights Watch says Mexican laws do not adequately protect women and girls against domestic and sexual violence,” and law enforcement is actively raping young girls, how could they possibly feel safe?

To those more upset over vandalism than the violation of women’s bodies and lives, here’s your translation for the above graffiti: “The walls can be cleaned, but the girls will never return.”

#NoMeCuidanMeViolan protesters do not want to be compared to #MeToo.

@giselilla / Twitter

“This week in #Mexico feminists protested against the rape of a 17-year old by cops,” tweeted human rights lawyer and journalist, Gisela Pérez de Acha. “As justice is non-existent and the media criminalizes victims, the #MeToo hashtag does not suffice. Latin American feminisms are amazingly organized. #MeToo is not our paradigm #NoMeCuidanMeViolan”

Pérez de Acha is right. In the aftermath of the march, major media outlets’ reporting has focused on the damage from protesters, rather than from police officers.

Some protesters knew the media would bypass the femicide and rape crisis and focus on property damage.

@gringatears / Twitter

After coming home from the march, one protester tweeted their “final thoughts” about what tomorrow would bring. “Tomorrow’s headlines will inevitably emphasize the destruction of property by women protesting Mexico’s crisis of rape and femicide.”

Mexico’s largest media outlet, El Universal, chose to focus on the counter-protesters, “With hashtag #EllasNoMeRepresentan [They don’t represent me] condemn acts of vandalism during feminist march.” ABC News‘ headline read “Mexico City assesses monument damage after anti-rape march.” The Independent‘s headline chose to focus on a “TV presenter punched live on air during protest.”

So far, the media has quoted more art historians than protesters.

@rosepetalflufff / Twitter

In fact, in all the major U.S. outlets we reviewed, we haven’t seen a single protester quoted in their stories. Instead of spreading more statements from art historians, mitú is aiming to amplify the voices that make up #NoNosCuidanNosViolan.

“I’m thinking about who the media criminalizes and how,” Mexico City journalist Madeleine Wattenbarger tweets. “About what we consider violence, about how the symbolic violence of breaking a window has more impact than the direct violence of attacking, raping, killing a human being.”

Estamos contigo, México. ✊🏾

@madeleinewhat / Twitter

The case involving four police officers allegedly raping a 17-year-old in a patrol car has gone cold after prosecution said there were inconsistencies in the teen victim’s testimony.

Here’s How Julián Castro Is Going To Take On The Gun Violence Health Crisis And The Deadly Rise Of Unchecked White Supremacy

Things That Matter

Here’s How Julián Castro Is Going To Take On The Gun Violence Health Crisis And The Deadly Rise Of Unchecked White Supremacy

Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Democratic presidential candidate Julián Castro has unveiled a plan to combat white supremacy and gun violence as the country grapples with recent mass shootings in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio. His policy proposal, called “People First Plan to Disarm Hate”, was released last Friday, Castro says it will try to “disarm hate” and would take on “white supremacist terrorism” by combating it with a “coordinated federal response.” The former U.S. housing secretary and San Antonio mayor says he would also sign executive orders on his first day in office “to end the gun violence epidemic.”

“Now is our moment to decide what kind of country we want to be,” Castro’s seven-page plan says. “We can be paralyzed by fear of extremism and cower before the corporate gun lobby, or we can combat white supremacist terrorism directly and end the gun violence epidemic that has plagued our nation for too long.”

JuliánCastro has been one of the vocal advocates for stronger gun control since the terrible mass shootings over a week ago. The gunman of the El Paso shooting confessed that he was looking to kill “Mexicans,” a point that Castro has referred to when discussing his policy.

Credit: @tusk81 / Twitter

Being the sole Latino candidate in the 2020 presidential race, Castro has voiced and echoed much of what the Latino community in El Paso and around the country have said about the recent shootings. Whether it’s been the heightened fear of a future attack or the call for stricter gun laws, Castro wants to address and calm the worries of the Latino community. 

“As a candidate for president, this issue is not only political, it’s personal. My wife Erica, an educator, and I are raising a daughter and son who both have brown skin. We worry for them and their friends,” Castro said. “They should be able to grow up free from fear of hate and safe from gun violence. Their safety is our foremost responsibility.”

The 2020 contender has also proposed an initiative to renew a permanent assault weapons ban and require gun users to have a license in order to purchase such firearms. His plan will also seek to establish education opportunities to “bridge racial and cultural divides” in this country.

“We can prevent it by making sure that these weapons of war are not on the street. We can also ensure that we have better tools to investigate something once it happens. I think when we’re talking about changing the hearts and the minds of people that are headed down the road of white nationalism, that means that we have to be better about ensuring that people are exposed to different ideas and different types of people in our country.”

Among other details in his proposed plan, Castro says his initiative would get at least $100 million in federal funds every year to coordinate anti-hate programs across five federal departments.

Credit: @CNN / Twitter

Castro joins a handful of Democratic presidential candidates that have unveiled plans to combat white supremacy and gun violence in the wake of the recent mass shootings. But his plan is going to in a slightly different route compared to other candidates as Castro wants to attack the root of the problem: hate. 

“My plan to disarm hate starts with comprehensively identifying the threat of white supremacist terrorism and combatting it directly with a coordinated federal response,” Castro said.” We’ll also invest in programs to fight radicalization and educational opportunities to bridge racial and cultural divides and lead a global coalition to defeat this rising tide of white nationalism.

Castro says combating white supremacy would entail convening a yearly summit for the cause hosted by the president and require state, local and tribal governments reporting hate crime statistics. He is also looking to sign an order directing the FBI to deny gun purchases to an individual with a pending arrest warrant, which would be a rebuke of a change in rules by President Trump.

There has been growing support for Castro in recent weeks due to strong performances at the Democratic Debates. This latest policy proposal has already won over some people. 

Credit: @josecanyousee / Twitter

Growing support has already been seen with this latest policy reveal and people on Twitter are taking notice of Castro. He has already previously rolled out proposals on important issues including immigration, education, housing, and police reform.

“Folks need to keep @JulianCastro on their radar! I’m invested in those who are willing to speak up, take action where it’s most needed—push against & undo white supremacy ideology, foundation of systemic oppression in US.” one user said on Twitter.

The gun reform plan is Castro’s latest policy rollout and his latest attempt to separate himself in a crowded field of candidates where he’s gained media momentum. But as of now, Castro is still polling around 1 percent and will need to gain more support if he is to continue his campaign.

READ: Julián Castro: The One Presidential Candidate Taking A Strong Stand For Migrants At The Border

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