something I’m helping with on the side…

I don’t often go off-topic here, and I promise to continue that trend, but I’m helping with something on the side that means a lot to me and that I want to tell you about.

When she was 19, my friend Natasha Alexenko was raped at gunpoint in the hallway of her apartment building. Her rape kit (the evidence collected at the hospital) then sat on a warehouse shelf for nine-and-a-half years — unopeneduntested for DNA. Eventually, nearly 10 years after the crime, the kit was finally processed, which led to her attacker being ID’d and caught, and he’s now serving 56 years in prison.

Natasha’s story isn’t an unusual one: Nationwide, an estimated 180,00 rape kits are backlogged — sitting on shelves unprocessed, for lack of money and/or will. That’s 180,000 rape victims who went through an invasive DNA collection process at the hospital, assuming something would be done with that evidence, never imagining that it would be shoved onto a musty shelf to sit for years … 180,000 people who are still waiting for justice … and 180,000 rapists still out there.

Because she’s awesome, earlier this year Natasha formed an organization dedicated to ending this backlog. They’re already doing amazing things (and I don’t make such statements lightly; this group has momentum). Please consider supporting their work, getting involved, and donating if you can.

(By the way, Natasha’s story is one of two featured in the HBO documentary “Sex Crimes Unit,” which is well worth watching, and there’s some great media coverage of her work here and here and here.)

Thanks for letting me go off-topic…

{ 27 comments… read them below }

  1. Anon y. mouse*

    Thanks for the recommendation. Sexual assault is such a difficult issue to combat, I’m glad to support a cause that will unquestionably help.

  2. Karyn*

    As a fellow rape survivor (not victim), I am thrilled to see someone finally calling bullsh*t on the use and storage of evidence in these cases. Any way I can help, I’m happy to. Thank you for posting this message. <3

  3. Talyssa*

    I know its probably really tricky to work out the details, but it looks like the money is going to advocacy efforts. Which is fine and not a waste of time, but I’m wondering if there’s anyway to just donate straight to something along the lines of “if we can raise 10,000 dollars we will be able to pay for the city of new york to process 100 rape kits”

    1. Talyssa*

      well Mmmm…then again the scale is just so huge that it probably makes more sense to spend that money to push government to do it. But it would still be nice if we could do both advocacy and let people flat out say “hey send lab X 100 of those, we’ll process them for XX donation”.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Good question, and I’m not sure. I’ll see if they might be willing to weigh in here and answer this.

      Personally, I’d argue that systemic changes have wider/longer-reaching impact (i.e., passing a law requiring that rape kits be processed within X weeks, like this new law in Texas does) … but I can totally understand the interest in donating to the direct work of processing the kits!

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Okay, I just checked with them.

        If you make a donation and leave a comment in PayPal stating you want your money to go directly to eliminating the backlog, their bookkeeper lists it as restricted funds and they will use the money exactly for that. They are also launching a campaign very shortly that will have money go directly towards rape kits.

        So if you want to specify where your money goes, you can!

    3. Natalie*

      One potential issue with that is that some law enforcement departments simply lack the forensic staff to process everything in a timely fashion. I had last read this a few years ago, so I can’t imagine the current economic situation and public appetite for budget cutting has helped any.

  4. Smarty*

    I agree that this is a really good cause and just donated.
    One small nitpick: “”and 180,000 rapists still out there”” – who says they are all unique?

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I thought of that when I was writing it but decided not to let it impede my prose :)

      They’re almost certainly NOT all unique, which is of course another reason to deal with the backlog so that these dudes stop repeatedly raping people.

      1. Martin*

        If they are not unique, there is at least one serial rapist out there, who will do it again, and again, and again.

        And that thought makes the cause all the more urgent.
        Those are the ones you want to have off of the streets more permanently.

  5. The Plaid Cow*

    It’s your platform and audience. You shouldn’t to apologize for posting about the issues that are important to you. What should it matter if we don’t care about the issue?

    “and if you don’t, I’ll tell you anyway”

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      In theory, yes :) But I also don’t want people to stop coming here because I’m not writing about the thing that drew them in the first place! Fortunately, I have limitless things to say on work issues and am in no danger of running out of those.

    2. Anon*

      Allison – if you’re worried about diluting the site content with your causes, you can always add a section specifically for causes or issues that you want to highlight. One of my favorite authors does this. The vast majority of her site is about her work and whatnot, but she also has a section of things near and dear to her heart. If there are enough things you wish to talk about, or you find important enough, then this could be a good solution for you. People could then check that section out, or not, without you worrying that it takes away from the core function.

        1. Martin*

          As this post was tagged ” Uncategorized ” I start to wonder if 144 posts with that tag shouldn’t be given some more thought.

          How many posts should have that tag, before there is a need to go through them and retag them?

          A post like this, could easily fall under Donations or World Improvement, and most likely other people can come up with better tags.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Well, you inspired me to get the number down to 119. The problem with creating new categories at this point is that I’d then have to go back through 4-1/2 years of posts — 1,266 posts, to be exact — to retag any in there that fit the new category, and that’s highly unlikely to happen. And I realize I could not bother with that step, but I’m too neurotic about detail to be willing to skip it.

            1. Martin*

              Now I am curious which 25 you retagged, and into what.

              Actually, you may not have to do the tagging yourself. With the amount of readers this site has, there is bound to be people finding new tags for old posts.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I just went through and found the ones that I’d forgotten to tag the first time around and which could reasonably go in an existing category.

                I don’t think there’s a way to let other people tag posts, unfortunately.

        2. Brian*

          The problem with getting the backlog cleared is money, to be sure, but it also has to do with recruiting and keeping enough skilled staff to do the testing not to mention testifying in court. That said, this could tie in to your blog about searching and hiring the right people. When you have something this specialized and you need the right skill set your search can be a rather big challenge. How about some advice for those who recruit the technicians and various other experts who can handle this?

  6. Candace*

    60 min or 20/20 did a story on this a while back. They paid to have 100+ kits tested which proved 2-3 innocent men were wrongly incarcerated. So there are benifits both ways. Putting away the guilty and keeping the innocent out of jail. It doesnt cost very much to test each kit but there are laws stating you can’t pay to have your own tested. They also mentioned if the gov’t reallocated the money for 1 fighter plane, it would test all backlog kits!

    Thanks for sharing.

  7. Anonymous*

    I praise Natasha for the amount of strength that she has. This certainly helps bring attention to women’s rights. Thanks AAM for posting this!

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